Providers should consider patient obesity a reason to assess cognitive function, especially for patients aged 50 and older. Several risk factors contribute to dementia, and while the role of obesity isn’t certain, a team from the Department of Behavioural Science and Health, University College London used data from a 15 year longitudinal study to determine whether “increased body weight or central obesity” revealed a correlation with greater risk of dementia.
The results suggest having increased weight or above-average abdominal adiposity exacerbates incidence of dementia. Overweight people were about 30 percent more likely to develop dementia, though whether this is associated with cardiovascular disease related to obesity, or a direct causal relationship is still being studied (NY Times):
The lead author, Yixuan Ma of University College London, said that this observational study does not prove cause and effect. “Being overweight is just a risk,” she said. “It doesn’t mean that an overweight person will necessarily get dementia. But for many reasons, it’s good to maintain a normal weight and engage in vigorous physical activity over a lifetime.”
At ages greater than 70 years old, there is some contradictory evidence that a higher BMI may be protective against dementia risk, and be associated with higher survival in the elderly (referred to as the obesity paradox)
Still, almost 7 percent of the nearly 7000 members of the overweight research population developed dementia. “From the various modifiable risk factors, obesity could represent a target for intervention, and these findings have significant implications for public health and dementia prevention.”
What this means for your practice: as you make recommendations for cognitive health testing for your older patient population, special emphasis should be placed on those cases with significant risk factors, obesity being one of them. As a fully reimbursable test, BrainCheck serves as a valuable tool for long term assessment of your patient’s cognitive health.