If You're Craving This, It Could Be an Early Sign of Dementia, Study Says
This mealtime habit might be a sign that you need to talk to a doctor.
Food cravings can be mysterious: One second you might want a salty bag of chips, and moments later, you could find yourself with a hankering for something sweet. While some people battle with their food cravings their whole life, experts say if these predilections begin to shift, it could be the beginnings of cognitive decline. In fact, one study found that craving one thing in particular could be an early sign of dementia. Read on to find out which mealtime habit means you should talk to your doctor.
Craving the same food all the time could be an early sign of dementia.
A 2015 study published in PLOS One examined the changes in dementia patients' eating habits. The study found that people with frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and semantic dementia (SD) tended to want the same foods repeatedly. According to the Alzheimer's Association, FTD is an umbrella term for disorders that are caused by nerve cell loss in the brain's frontal and temporal lobes, which are behind your forehead and ears, respectively. This leads to a loss of function in these brain regions, which manifests in a "deterioration in behavior, personality and/or difficulty with producing or comprehending language." SD, on the other hand, is characterized by the loss of semantic memory, resulting in the inability to match certain words with their images, per Alzheimer Europe.
An appetite change of some form was shown in almost half of all mild Alzheimer's disease patients. (Alzheimer's is a form of dementia.) A shift in food preference was reported at its highest during the moderate stage of the disease, which the researchers hypothesize "may reflect some sort of 'burnout' leading to increased behavioral apathy."
A change in appetite could also be an early sign of dementia.
It's not just what you want to eat, but how much you're hungry for as well. A shift in appetite—whether it's increased or decreased—is another early sign of dementia. In addition to a change in food preferences, people with FTD and SD also experienced a change in appetite, according to the study. Researchers thought "it was interesting that two conflicting eating symptoms, 'increase in appetite' and 'loss of appetite,' were observed in approximately the same number of patients with mild [Alzheimer's disease]."
The researchers pointed out that appetite loss could results from depression, as almost 70 percent of people with Alzheimer's reported having some depressive symptoms. Meanwhile, the increase in appetite "might reflect the behavior of having a meal in a repetitive manner because of severe memory impairment," the researchers suggest.
Changes in food preferences are also something to look out for.
If you find yourself suddenly craving foods you've never liked before or notice that your sweet tooth has taken over, that also might be worth discussing with your doctor. People with Alzheimer's experienced a change in the foods they prefer, with a special inclination toward "sweet foods and candies, and adding strong flavor to their dishes using soy sauces," according to the study.
The Alzheimer's Society suggests that if you notice a spike in your sugar cravings, fruit or naturally sweet vegetables may be a healthier option. They also recommend adding a tiny amount of honey or sugar to savory foods to help satisfy the sweet tooth without taking in too much sugar.
RELATED: For more health content delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
Difficulty swallowing is a sign of severe dementia.
As dementia progresses, the symptoms of the illness progress with it. In the study, difficulty swallowing was seen mostly in people with severe Alzheimer's disease. Overall, 81.4 percent of Alzheimer's patients exhibited some form of eating and swallowing disturbance.
Researchers said about half of the patients in the severe stage had developed a swallowing disturbance. The Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) explains that this condition occurs because, as dementia progresses, it impacts the part of the brain that is responsible for swallowing.