The finding may be useful to researchers seeking ways to detect and treat Alzheimer's before it causes irreversible brain damage. The study is the first to confirm in precise detail a link between weight loss and dementia tentatively identified a decade ago. Researchers report that one year before study volunteers were diagnosed with very mild dementia, their rate of weight loss doubled from 0.6 pounds per year to 1.2 pounds per year. The analysis used data from the Memory and Aging Project at the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center (ADRC) of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Alzheimer's researchers are working hard to find biomarkers, indicators that can be used to detect the presence of Alzheimer's before clinical symptoms become obvious. Studies have strongly suggested that if Alzheimer's treatments will ever prevent lasting cognitive damage, they may have to be given to patients before memory loss and other disruptions caused by the disorder are evident.

"A person's weight can vary substantially in a given year, so weight loss alone can't serve as a definite indicator for physicians," says David K. Johnson, Ph.D., research instructor in neurology. "But it's interesting from a biochemical perspective - we don't know why these two
phenomena are linked. And weight loss may one day be incorporated into a battery of biomarkers that physicians keep their eyes on for early warning of Alzheimer's-type dementia."

"Interestingly, the group of volunteers who did become demented started the study weighing about eight pounds less on average than the patients who did not develop dementia," Johnson notes. It's unclear why the group that developed dementia began the study at a lower average weight. Johnson speculates that a process somehow related to Alzheimer's might have become active earlier in the participants' lives and started to drive their weight down. Alternatively, persons with lower average weight may be more vulnerable to Alzheimer's.; Source: Washington University School of Medicine