As we get older, it becomes increasingly important for us to keep track of any changes going on with our bodies, as they can often indicate larger health issues. When it comes to treating age-related conditions like dementia, catching early symptoms is our best bet. And while we are probably already aware that lapses in our memory can signal a problem, changes in our food preferences may as well — especially if you’re suddenly craving sweets.
Why More Sweet Cravings Could Signal Dementia
Science suggests that folks with a specific type of dementia called frontotemporal dementia (FTD) may exhibit sudden increases in sweet cravings. Frontotemporal dementia affects the frontal and temporal lobes in the brain, which play a role in our personality, behavior, and ability to use language.
One study published in JAMA Neurology found that people with FTD eat more sugar and carbohydrates — and are more likely to gain weight rapidly — than those who don’t have the condition. Other research has also shown that the condition is often marked by an increase in sweet cravings, explaining that this is probably because of the way the disease affects how our brains use serotonin (known as the “happy” hormone). This is an important symptom to make note of because, while most people are diagnosed with dementia in their mid 60s, FTD can actually appear much earlier.
“Most people with frontotemporal dementia start to show symptoms between the ages of 45 and 65,” said Andrew E. Budson, MD, associate director for research at the Boston University Alzheimer’s Disease Center. In his article on Psychology Today, he says that in his experience treating folks with FTD, changes in cravings — with a particular preference towards sugary foods — have been a telling sign of the brain problem. “Some individuals compulsively perform repetitive movements, such as turning the light switch off and on whenever they walk by it,” he explains. “Others show a marked change in food preferences (often preferring sweets), engage in binge eating, or excessive smoking or drinking alcohol.”
What Else to Look For
If you crave cookies or a few scoops of ice cream every now and then, this isn’t cause for concern — we all deserve a little indulgence! As Budson explains, it’s important to look out for other telling signs that there’s a larger problem. Contact a healthcare provider if you or someone you love over the age of 45 is demonstrating major personality changes, as these could signify brain degeneration. Signs of FTD include inappropriate social behavior, loss of manners or empathy/sympathy, and impulsive actions. Other warning signs include repeating words, movements, and behaviors, neglect of self-care and hygiene, and sudden loss of motivation or interest in activities.
When it comes to treating dementia, early diagnosis is key. With that in mind, we should all be sure to monitor our brain health by paying attention to any and all changes in our behavior and preferences, as even something as seemingly unrelated as food cravings could help us identify an illness or disease.