Dementia can come in many forms—from vascular dementia to frontotemporal dementia to Alzheimer's disease—and each can affect the brain differently. And while all of the various types cause memory loss and changes in personality, each may also display its own signs and symptoms that can clue you or a caregiver into what's going on.
Researchers have found that one of these types, frontotemporal dementia (FTD), has a distinct symptom that may serve as an early warning sign. They say that individuals with this type of dementia "show a marked change in food preferences," including a particular desire for one particular type of food. Read on to find out which craving may tip you off to a dementia diagnosis—and what other symptoms to look out for.
Craving sweets can be a sign of dementia.
According to Andrew E. Budson, MD, associate director for research at the Boston University Alzheimer's Disease Center and a professor of neurology at Boston University School of Medicine, craving sweets can be an early sign of FTD. He explained to Psychology Today that this particular form of dementia "often exhibits changes in food preferences, such as the desire to eat sweet foods."
Budson recounted a story he heard in a support group for the caregivers of dementia patients, which included this strange symptom. "He began to eat things—like a tub of ice cream or a whole box of cookies—in bed while I was trying to sleep," one woman told the group of her husband, who was later diagnosed with FTD. She also shared that he would eat "a box of cake mix, a tin of frosting," and other sweet items that would not typically appeal to him. A 2016 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that patients with FTD eat more sugar and carbohydrates—and are more likely to experience rapid weight gain—than those without neurodegeneration.
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You may notice symptoms at a younger age than most forms of dementia.
While most people with Alzheimer's disease are diagnosed in their mid-60s, signs of frontotemporal dementia regularly appear significantly earlier.
"Most people with frontotemporal dementia start to show symptoms between the ages of 45 and 65, although in about one-quarter of individuals the disease is first detected after age 65," Budson explains.
You may also notice pronounced shifts in your personality.
In addition to craving sweets, those with frontotemporal dementia will typically have other "prominent symptoms," including notable changes in personality and behavior. "Friends and family members of individuals with frontotemporal dementia frequently describe them as behaving like 'different people,'" Budson explains.
"They often show socially inappropriate behaviors, have poor manners, make impulsive decisions, and engage in careless actions," as well as displaying a pronounced lack of either sympathy or empathy, says Budson.
It may also affect your ability to complete everyday tasks.
The woman from the support group Budson described shared that while there were many signs that something was wrong with her husband, she didn't think to consult a doctor until it began affecting his ability to work. "Loss of interest, drive, and motivation to do anything is very common," Budson says. This sense of "apathy" or "inertia," as Budson describes it, may impact one's ability to hold a job or fulfill their everyday responsibilities.
However, the neurologist warns that while the individual's habits may change drastically, they are almost always unaware of the changes themselves. "It is family or friends who bring the abnormal behavior to medical attention," Budson says.