Background: While high adiposity in middle age appears to be related to greater dementia risk, studies exploring this association in the elderly are conflicting.
Objective: To evaluate associations between midlife and late-life obesity and risk of dementia.
Design: Prospective study with mean follow-up of 5.4 years (1992-1994 through 1999).
Setting: Community-dwelling sample in 4 US sites recruited from Medicare eligibility files.
Participants: A total of 2798 adults without dementia (mean age, 74.7 years; 59.1% women) participating in the Cardiovascular Health Study who underwent magnetic resonance imaging were measured for height and weight at baseline at age 65 years or older (late life), and self-reported weight at age 50 years (midlife). Body mass index (BMI) (calculated as weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared) was calculated at both times.
Main outcome measures: Dementia, Alzheimer disease, and vascular dementia classified by a multidisciplinary committee using standardized criteria.
Results: Classification resulted in 480 persons with incident dementia, 245 with Alzheimer disease (no vascular dementia), and 213 with vascular dementia (with or without Alzheimer disease). In evaluations of midlife obesity, an increased risk of dementia was found for obese (BMI >30) vs normal-weight (BMI 20-25) persons, adjusted for demographics (hazard ratio [HR], 1.39; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.03-1.87) and for cardiovascular risk factors (1.36; 0.94-1.95). The risk estimates were reversed in assessments of late-life BMI. Underweight persons (BMI <20) had an increased risk of dementia (1.62; 1.02-2.64), whereas being overweight (BMI >25-30) was not associated (0.92; 0.72-1.18) and being obese reduced the risk of dementia (0.63; 0.44-0.91) compared with those with normal BMI.
Conclusion: These results help explain the "obesity paradox" as differences in dementia risk across time are consistent with physical changes in the trajectory toward disability.