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Weight Loss May Yield Alzheimer's Clues

Gradual declines in body mass may be linked to changes in appetite, experts say

MONDAY, July 17, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Gradual weight loss can precede dementia and begin as early as 10 years prior to memory loss, concludes a Mayo Clinic study involving women with and without dementia.

The findings may provide clues to the origins of dementia, say the researchers, who were expected to present the findings Sunday at the International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease and Related Disorders, in Madrid, Spain.

The Mayo team compared the long-term medical records of 560 people diagnosed with the onset of dementia between 1990 and 1994. These patients were compared to a group of patients who did not have dementia.

Both groups averaged about the same weight -- 140 pounds -- at the beginning of the study. Women who did not develop dementia maintained that weight over the next 30 years.

In contrast, "The women who later developed dementia started off at the same weight as those who didn't develop dementia, but their weight drifted downward to 136 pounds 10 years before symptom onset and 128 pounds at symptom onset," Dr. David Knopman, lead researcher and neurologist, said in a prepared statement.

He and his colleagues said it's unclear what caused the weight loss in the women who later developed dementia, but they have some theories.

"The weight loss findings raise scientific questions about the cause or causes of the weight loss. This points to changes in the brain that develop years before the actual memory loss. We think that there are several possible explanations," Knopman said.

"The women might have less initiative and lose interest in eating, they might develop a duller sense of taste and smell, or they might experience an earlier sense of satiety (feeling full). Also, because, we didn't observe the anticipatory weight loss in men, the weight loss could have something specific to do with postmenopausal hormonal changes," he said.

Pinpointing the brain mechanisms that influence weight loss in women who develop dementia may help researchers better understand how it develops, Knopman said.

More information

The American Medical Association has more about dementia.

SOURCE: Mayo Clinic, news release, July 16, 2006
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