What is Dementia?
Dementia is a general term used to describe a decline in mental ability that is serious enough to interfere with daily living. It is not a specific illness but a term used to characterize a range of symptoms that severely effect memory and other thinking skills. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and accounts for sixty to eighty percent of cases. The second most common type is Frontotemporal Disease, a dementia that affects a younger population.
Symptoms of dementia can include pronounced impairment of memory, communication and language, ability to focus, reasoning and judgment skills, and visual perception, as well as changes in personality and behavior. Many dementias are progressive illnesses and grow worse as time passes.
Video courtesy Planning for Hope(C) 2012
Dementia occurs when brain cells become damaged and can no longer communicate with one another. When cells in any given brain region become impaired, that region can no longer carry out normal functions.
Obesity Ages the Brain
Studies have established a link between obesity and dementia with brains of obese people looking 16 years older than the brains of normal weight people. The brains of people who are overweight looked eight years older than the brains of normal weight people.
Link Between Obesity and Dementia
Researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health analyzed published obesity and dementia follow-up studies stretching across two decades and found a consistent relationship between the two. Obesity increases the possibility for dementia by 42% in general, Alzheimer’s disease by 80%, and vascular dementia by 73%.
Research has also shown that abdominal fat is linked to reduced brain volume in middle-aged adults and that the reduction is connected with a variant of an obesity-related gene.
Obesity indicators such as body mass index, waist circumference, waist-to-hip ratio and abdominal fat were measured against brain volume. It was discovered that the higher any indicator was, the smaller the brain volume. Abdominal fat and brain volume had the highest association.
Studies suggest that maintaining normal body weight through all of adulthood can minimize or perhaps prevent the onset of dementia.
Risk of Obesity in Middle Age
Middle age seems to be a particularly risky time for those individuals who meet the medical criteria for obesity. People who are obese at middle age are four times as likely as normal weight middle-aged people to develop dementias later in life. People who were overweight in middle age had a 1.8 higher risk for a diagnosis of dementia later in life while those classified as obese had a 300% higher risk factor.
How exactly excess weight influences the degradation of the brain is unknown although there are many possibilities. High ratios of body fat are associated with diabetes and vascular diseases, both of which are related to the risk for dementia.