I spoke to a woman recently who lost her husband to frontotemporal dementia. She shared something with me that many people don’t recognize as related to dementia…weight GAIN.
Yes, gain. Weight loss is quite common as well, so when I talk about dementia and weight, I usually say dementia can be related to a change in weight.
Frontotemporal dementia is a type of dementia that impacts impulse control. When she mentioned that one of the first “odd” things she noticed was that he was eating more, I wasn’t surprised it was a sign of frontotemporal dementia. When she told told me how much weight he gained, I was surprised.
He gained over 100 pounds in 9 months. She said that the weight gain didn’t seem to bother him, although he was becoming more irritable overall. She tried to help…they went on Weight Watchers together, but it turned into a fight. He was not about to start counting points or carbs or calories or anything else for that matter. She estimated he was eating 7000-10,000 calories a day. (She did point out that she lost 23 pounds on Weight Watchers but pointed out that some of that was probably just stress.)
She refused to keep junk food in the house. He started ordering pizza and buying snacks at the gas station. She’d find empty packages of family-sized Oreos in his car.
She forced him to go to the doctor a few times. They didn’t suspect dementia; they shrugged and said he was gaining weight because he was eating too much. The doctor said he’d die if he kept eating like that. He shrugged. He even bullied his wife into stopping at Arby’s on the way home so he could get a shake.
The diagnosis came after he had gained well over 100 pounds. What finally made doctors suspect dementia had nothing to do with weight; he had pretty much stopped talking by that point. And when he did talk, he wasn’t saying anything nice.
His wife told me she felt dumb that she had never considered that weight gain could be part of dementia. But why would she? We think dementia equals memory loss, and if there’s no memory loss, we don’t think dementia.
Many people tell me that their loved one’s dementia started with something other than memory loss. Weight changes. Irritability. Depression. Anxiety. Issues with balance. Sensory changes. Personality changes. Obsessive behavior.
Later on, they look back and realize that’s when dementia started, and they had no idea. They didn’t know this was dementia.
100 pounds in 9 months. It could be something else, but it could be dementia.