Dementia is a progressive decline in brain function that results in memory loss, confusion and behavioral disturbances. Dementia affects about 1% of people between the ages of 65 and 69, but as many as 30-50% over the age of 85 suffer from it.
Dementia is not a normal part of aging. Isolated mild memory loss can be a normal part of aging. The early signs of dementia can be diagnosed using a variety of neurologic tests along with a comprehensive neurologic exam and history.
Because there are medications available to treat dementia, the earlier diagnosis allows doctors to start medications sooner and delay progression to more severe dementia.
Dementia signs include loss of memory, paranoid behavior, and poor judgment and insight. However, sometimes other more subtle signs emerge that can give family and doctors clues of an evolving dementia.
A recent study has suggested that accelerated weight loss is a possible sign of dementia. Weight loss in the elderly is a common finding. However, researchers at Washington University in St. Louis studied 449 elderly patients and found that although all the subjects in the study lost weight, an accelerated weight loss of double the annual loss of weight predicted the onset of dementia in the following year.
Another study also points to weight loss as a potential indicator of future dementia. A recent study at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, indicates that women may actually start losing weight as much as a decade before the onset of dementia. They found that women started losing weight at a more accelerated pace 10 years before they developed dementia. The study did not show the same findings in men.
The reasons for weight loss as a marker for dementia is not clear. Some researchers believe that early weight loss results as a result of problems in an area of the brain called the hypothalamic system. This system may be involved early in dementia and cause changes in appetite.
Unintended weight loss can also be a sign of other serious medical problems and a thorough general medical evaluation should also be completed to rule out other causes.