Dementia symptoms: Two ‘food fads’ significantly associated with the onset of dementia

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Dementia is an umbrella term for a range of conditions related to progressive brain decline. Most people readily associate brain decline with memory loss but this is not always the first warning sign. For example, frontotemporal dementia (FTD) results from damage to the temporal and frontal lobes of the brain – areas responsible for behaviour and personality.

Research published in JAMA Neurology suggests two “food fads” are highly predictive of FTD.

Researchers sought to define and quantify patterns of eating behaviour and energy, sugar, carbohydrate, protein, and fat intake in patients with behavioural variant frontotemporal dementia and semantic dementia compared with patients with Alzheimer’s disease and healthy control participants.

Behavioural variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD) and semantic dementian (SD) are two subtypes of FTD.

Patients with these subvariants of FTD typically exhibit “stereotypical eating and food fads”, the researchers wrote.

To further investigate this hypothesis, seventy-five participants with dementia (21 with bvFTD, 26 with SD, and 28 with Alzheimer’s) and 18 age and education-matched healthy controls were recruited from FRONTIER, the FTD research clinic at Neuroscience Research Australia in Sydney.

Caregivers of patients with FTD and Alzheimer’s completed validated questionnaires on appetite, eating behaviours, energy consumption, and dietary macronutrient composition.

All participants completed surveys on hunger and satiety. Body mass index and weight measurements were prospectively collected.

What did the researchers learn?

Compared with controls, the bvFTD group had significantly increased carbohydrate intake and the SD group had significantly increased sugar intake.

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What’s more, the bvFTD group had significant abnormalities in the domains of appetite, eating habits, food preferences, swallowing, and other oral behaviours compared with the Alzheimer’s group.

The bvFTD and SD groups also tended to have increased energy consumption.

The researchers concluded: “Abnormal eating behaviours are prominent in patients with bvFTD and those with SD and are not limited to increased appetite.

“The observed higher intake of sugar and carbohydrates was found in patients with the FTD subtypes and those with higher body mass index and waist circumference and was not explained simply by increased hunger or lower satiety.”

General symptoms of FTD include:

  • Language problems
  • Problems with mental abilities
  • Memory problems.

How to respond

According to the NHS, you should see a GP if you think you have early symptoms of dementia.

“If you’re worried about someone else, encourage them to make an appointment with a GP and perhaps suggest you go with them,” advises the health body.

It adds: “The GP can do some simple checks to try to find the cause of your symptoms, and they can refer you to a memory clinic or another specialist for further tests if needed.”

Are you at risk?

Some people with FTD have a family history of the condition.

Research has found a number of faulty genes that can cause inherited forms of FTD, including tau, progranulin and C9ORF72.

In cases of FTD where there is no family history, the risk factors for the disease are not yet fully understood.

Because FTD is a rarer type of dementia it is harder for researchers to study its causes.

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