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MEDICAL: CONDITIONS: ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE: Loss of Body Mass Linked to Development of Alzheimer's Disease, Study Finds

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  • David P. Dillard
    MEDICAL: CONDITIONS: ALZHEIMER S DISEASE: Loss of Body Mass Linked to Development of Alzheimer s Disease, Study Finds Date: Mon, 26 Sep 2005 16:10:03 -0400
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      Development of Alzheimer's Disease, Study Finds

      Date: Mon, 26 Sep 2005 16:10:03 -0400
      From: "NIH OLIB (NIH/OD)" <olib@...>
      To: NIHPRESS@...
      Subject: Loss of Body Mass Linked to Development of Alzheimer's Disease,
      Study Finds

      U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
      NIH News
      National Institute on Aging (NIA)

      EMBARGOED FOR RELEASE: Monday, September 26, 2005; 4:00 p.m. ET

      CONTACT: Susan Farrer or Vicky Cahan, 301-496-1752, 301-785-3101 (weekend


      Loss of body mass over time appears to be strongly linked to older adults'
      risk of developing Alzheimer's disease (AD), and the greater the loss the
      greater the chance of a person developing the disease, new research has
      found. The findings are the first to associate decline in body mass index
      (BMI) with the eventual onset of AD. The researchers suggest that the loss
      of body mass reflects disease processes and that change in BMI might be a
      clinical predictor of the development of AD.

      The research, reported in the September 27, 2005, issue of "Neurology", was
      conducted by Aron S. Buchman, M.D., David A. Bennett, M.D., and colleagues
      at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, IL, as part of the Religious
      Orders Study. The Religious Orders Study is a comprehensive, long-term look
      at aging and AD among Catholic nuns, priests, and brothers nationwide that
      has been funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), a component of the
      National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,
      since 1993. Rush University Medical Center is one of more than 30
      Alzheimer's Disease Centers supported by the NIA.

      "People with Alzheimer's disease are known to lose weight and body mass
      after they have the disease," says Dallas W. Anderson, Ph.D., program
      director for population studies in the Dementias of Aging Branch of NIA's
      Neuroscience and Neuropsychology of Aging Program. "This study is
      significant in that it looks at body mass changes in the years preceding
      dementia and cognitive decline. Other studies have looked at BMI at only one
      point in time or studied body mass loss in people who already have AD."

      Each of the 820 study participants took part in yearly clinical evaluations
      that included a medical history, neurologic examination, and extensive
      cognitive function testing. The participants' weights and heights were also
      measured to determine their BMI, a widely used measure of body composition
      that is calculated by dividing weight in kilograms by height in meters
      squared. They completed an average of 6.6 annual evaluations, with a 95
      percent follow-up rate. All of the participants were older than 65 years,
      and the vast majority of them were white and of European ancestry.

      When the study began, none of the participants had dementia, and their
      average BMI was 27.4. During the follow-up period, 151 of the participants
      (18.4 percent) developed AD. Both baseline BMI and the annual rate of change
      in BMI were linked to the risk of developing AD.

      People who lost approximately one unit of BMI per year had a 35 percent
      greater risk of developing AD than that of people with no change in BMI over
      the course of the study. Those with no change in BMI had a 20 percent
      greater risk of developing the disease than that of people who gained
      six-tenths of a unit of BMI per year.

      The findings held true even after adjusting for factors such as chronic
      health problems, age, sex, and education. They also held true when those who
      developed AD in the first 4 years of follow-up -- and might have had mild,
      undiagnosed AD early in the study -- were excluded from the analysis.

      The investigators found a similar relationship between changes in BMI and
      rate of cognitive decline, which is the clinical hallmark of AD. Even when
      controlling for baseline cognitive function, baseline BMI, age, sex, and
      education, the rate of cognitive decline among people losing approximately
      one unit of BMI per year was more than 35 percent higher than that of people
      with no change in BMI and 80 percent higher than that of people who gained
      six-tenths of a unit of BMI per year.

      Further analyses showed that depressive symptoms, participants' physical
      activity levels, and female participants' use of estrogen replacement did
      not explain the link between BMI loss and development of AD.

      In addition, when the researchers looked at changes in weight rather than
      BMI, they found that a loss of 1 pound per year was associated with a 5
      percent increase in the risk of AD.

      "These findings suggest that subtle, unexplained body mass and weight loss
      in an older person may be an early sign of AD and can precede the
      development of obvious memory problems," explains Bennett, who directs the
      Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center. "The most likely explanation is that there
      is something about these individuals or about this disease that affects BMI
      before the clinical syndrome becomes apparent -- that loss of BMI reflects
      the disease process itself."

      "Our understanding of Alzheimer's disease is changing as we get more
      information, particularly as we look at the pathology of the disease," adds
      Buchman, the lead investigator for the study. "It turns out that Alzheimer's
      disease not only results in cognitive dysfunction, but also may have a
      variety of other symptoms, depending on which brain regions are affected. If
      the disease pathology affects a region of the brain that controls weight,
      your body mass may decline prior to loss of cognition."

      Based on the Religious Orders Study findings and other evidence, the
      researchers suggest that loss of body mass could be added to the "relatively
      short list" of signs doctors can use to predict a person's risk of
      developing AD.

      "There are actually very few predictors of Alzheimer's disease," Bennett
      explains. "This study makes us think about the spectrum of clinical signs of
      AD beyond changes in memory and behavior and motor skills. Changes in BMI
      are easy to measure in a doctor's office without an expensive scan," he

      Bennett and colleagues acknowledge that the study participants were limited
      to Catholic clergy living in communal settings and recommend replication of
      the research with more diverse groups of people. They also note that the
      group's homogeneity strengthened their research because they knew that all
      of the participants had access to ample, nutritious food. The authors are
      indebted to the altruism and support of the participants in the Religious
      Orders Study.

      The researchers note that the Religious Orders Study research complements
      recently published findings of the Honolulu-Asia Aging Study, a 32-year
      population-based study funded jointly by NIA and the National Heart, Lung,
      and Blood Institute, NIH. Those findings, released in the January 2005
      "Archives of Neurology", show that dementia-associated weight loss in
      Japanese-American men begins before the onset of dementia and accelerates by
      the time of diagnosis.

      For more information on participation in an AD clinical trial, visit
      http://www.clinicaltrials.gov/ (search for "Alzheimer's disease trials"), or
      the Alzheimer's Disease Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center website at


      ADEAR may also be contacted toll free at 1-800-438-4380. The ADEAR Center is
      sponsored by the NIA to provide information to the public and health
      professionals about AD and age-related cognitive change and may be contacted
      at the website and phone number above for a variety of publications and fact
      sheets, as well as information on clinical trials.

      To contact Dr. Dallas Anderson: Call Susan Farrer or Vicky Cahan, NIA Office
      of Communications and Public Liaison, 301-496-1752.

      To contact Dr. David Bennett or Dr. Aron Buchman: Call Mary Ann Schultz,
      Media Relations, Rush University Medical Center, 312-942-7816.

      The National Institutes of Health (NIH) -- "The Nation's Medical Research
      Agency" -- includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.
      S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary Federal agency
      for conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical
      research, and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both
      common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs,



      This NIH News Release is available online at:

      David Dillard
      Temple University
      (215) 204 - 4584
      Digital Divide Network
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