Neural Networks Involved in Abnormal Eating in Dementia

elderly woman dementia eating
elderly woman dementia eating
Eating abnormalities in frontotemporal dementia result from a network of brain regions, rather than 1or 2 specific structures.

Researchers have made progress in understanding the neural networks underlying food preferences and eating habits in people with dementia.

Rebekah Ahmed, MBBS, of Neuroscience Research Australia, the University of New South Wales, and the Research Council Centre of

Excellence in Cognition and Its Disorders in Sydney, Australia and colleagues found that participants with behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD) had increased total caloric intake compared with patients with Alzheimer’s disease, semantic dementia, and control groups.

CLINICAL CHART: Dementia Management

Excessive eating was present in all participants with bvFTD, and rigid eating behavior (refusing to eat or only eating tiny amounts) were characteristic of semantic dementia.

The researchers also found that participants with bvFTD and semantic dementia had a strong preference for sucrose compared with participants from the Alzheimer’s and control groups.

The research was published in JAMA Neurology.

Previous studies have assessed only participants with bvFTD, a combination of participants with bvFTD and semantic dementia, or a combination of neurodegenerative diseases, finding that both binge eating and a preference for sweets were associated with the right orbitofrontal cortex, insula, and striatum — regions of the brain related to reward-seeking behaviors.

These regions were also identified in the current study, but were observed as a part of a much more distributed network.

“Increased caloric intake correlated with atrophy in discrete neural networks that differed between patients with bvFTD and semantic dementia, but included the cingulated cortices, thalami, and cerebellum in patients with bvFTD, with the addition of the orbitofrontal cortices and nucleus accumbens in patients with semantic dementia,” the authors wrote.