Obesity link to memory and thinking problems in healthy adults

Published 18 November 2014

Obesity in healthy older adults may be linked to memory and thinking problems, according to research presented at Neuroscience 2014 in Washington DC today (18 November 2014).

Researchers at the Australian National University in Canberra followed 420 cognitively healthy adults aged 60-64 for eight years. The participants' body mass index (BMI) was measured at the start of the study, and again after four and eight years. At these times, the participants were also given a brain scan to measure the size of a part of the brain called the hippocampus, which is important for learning and memory.

Having a higher body mass index was found to be associated with a smaller hippocampus, and those with a higher BMI at the start of the research experienced greater shrinkage of the hippocampus during the study.

Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research and Development at Alzheimer's Society, said:

'Although this study didn't look directly at dementia in these participants, the hippocampus is an important area of the brain and is often one of the first areas to be affected in dementia, especially Alzheimer's disease. Understanding ways to improve the health of this crucial brain region could help us reduce the effects of dementia – more research is needed to see if this is the case.

'We know that obesity in mid-life is a risk factor for later dementia, so it's concerning to see it possibly having a direct effect on the brain later in life too. What's good for your heart is good for your head. The best way to reduce the risk of developing dementia is to eat a healthy diet, take regular exercise, maintain a healthy weight and not smoke.'

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