This Eating Habit Could Be A Warning Sign Of Dementia, Experts Say

Person eating a sandwich on a train
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Studies have shown that everything from brushing your teeth to climbing the stairs can reveal signs of early dementia. And now, it seems that how you take your dinner could indicate whether or not you've got a condition called frontotemporal dementia. The uncommon subtype of dementia affects about one in every 20 dementia patients, Dementia UK says.They say it’s an ”umbrella term for a group of dementias that mainly affect the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain, which are responsible for personality, behavior, language, and speech.”And unlike other forms of dementia, its early stages may not always be characterized by memory loss or impaired concentration. Instead, one of the symptoms of behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia (bv FTD) is “obsessive or repetitive behavior” ― and that can extend to food.


Elderly woman in a blue shirt and pearls biting a chicken wing with a joyful expression, outdoors
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“Frontotemporal dementia is associated with a wide variety of abnormal eating behaviors such as hyperphagia, fixations on one kind of food, even ingestion of inanimate objects,” a paper on the topic reads. Those with the condition may refuse to eat anything other than one food ― for instance, the paper referenced a “banana lady,” who ate nothing but bananas and drank nothing but milk for months before her death. After an autopsy, it was found that she had frontotemporal dementia (FTD). Those with the condition may also eat non-food objects and steal food from other people’s plates.“These behaviors are problematic, of course, socially, but also with regard to patients’ health as they tend to gain weight,” says SISSA researcher, Marilena Aiello, who was involved in a systemic review of FTD, “even if individual consequences are different.”However, “some people lose weight because they eat a narrow range of foods in an obsessive way,” the researcher says.

Why does this happen?

Young woman assists smiling elderly woman in the kitchen, with vegetables and cooking utensils on the counter
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We’re not fully sure. “The origin of food anomalies in frontotemporal dementia is likely due to many factors,” says Aiello. “It may involve an alteration of the autonomic nervous system, characterized by an altered assessment of the body’s signals, such as hunger, satiety, and appetite. Damage to the hypothalamus can cause a loss of inhibitory signals, causing behaviors such as overeating,” the researcher says.On top of that, “There are probably sensory and cognitive factors that can complicate the picture... In patients who eat objects, for example, there is perhaps a semantic problem of recognizing the object of and its function,” Allieo adds.

What are other signs of FTD?

Woman enjoying an ice cream cone outside on a sunny day
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Of course, hyper-fixating on foods and eating non-food objects aren’t specific to FTD. Allieo himself says that these are “abnormalities that may be present, albeit with varied intensities, in healthy individuals with irregular eating habits.” Pica, the desire to eat non-food objects like clay, can happen in pregnancy, for instance; those with autism can sometimes hyperfixate on foods. The habit may signify FTD more strongly, however, if combined with other symptoms of the condition. These are, per the NHS:

  • personality and behavior changes – acting inappropriately or impulsively, appearing selfish or unsympathetic, neglecting personal hygiene, overeating, or loss of motivation

  • language problems – speaking slowly, struggling to make the right sounds when saying a word, getting words in the wrong order, or using words incorrectly

  • problems with mental abilities – getting distracted easily, struggling with planning and organization

  • memory problems – these only tend to occur later on, unlike more common forms of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease

  • physical problems, such as slow or stiff movements, loss of bladder or bowel control (usually not until later on), muscle weakness or difficulty swallowing.

If you suspect you or a loved one has dementia, it’s important to speak to a GP as soon as possible as the earlier the intervention, the better.This article originally appeared on HuffPost.