Surprising link between your brain health and your bone health

Predicting when, or even if, our brains will begin to deteriorate as we age is a tricky business. But a new study has uncovered a surprising link between your brain health and your bone health that may help.

As you age, maintaining the health of your bones – and in particular your bone density – becomes more important due to the threat of osteoporosis. Bone density refers to the internal thickness and strength of your bones, which can deteriorate over time.

A bone density scan can also give an indication of the presence of endocrine (hormonal) disease, chronic liver disease, rheumatoid arthritis and chronic renal failure.

But your bones could be telling you much more than that. The results of a long-term study have been published in the journal Neurology. A team of researchers have demonstrated a surprising link between a person’s bone density and their likelihood of developing dementia.

The study looked at 3651 people with an average age of 72 for 11 years. The participants did not have any dementia symptoms at the start of the study.

Researchers interviewed participants every four to five years, conducted bone density scans and physical dementia tests.

In the end, 19 per cent of the group (688 individuals) developed dementia symptoms. When the researchers examined X-rays of participants’ bone scans, they found 90 cases of dementia in those who were in the bottom 25 per cent for bone density.

In contrast, they found only 57 dementia cases in people within the highest 25 per cent of bone density.

After adjusting for factors such as age, sex, education, other illnesses and medication use, and a family history of dementia, researchers found that within 10 years, people with the lowest total body bone density were 42 per cent more likely to develop dementia than people in the highest group.

Professor Mohammed Arfan Ikram, author of the study, told ScienceDaily it was well known that dementia and low bone density are both common afflictions in older people but that previously it had not been clear if there was a link.

“Low bone density and dementia are two conditions that commonly affect older people simultaneously, especially as bone loss often increases due to physical inactivity and poor nutrition during dementia,”  he said.

“However, little is known about bone loss that occurs in the period leading up to dementia. Our study found that bone loss indeed already occurs before dementia and thus is linked to a higher risk of dementia.”

Prof. Ikram was quick to reinforce that although this study establishes a positive link between low bone density and dementia risk, it couldn’t yet explain why this was the case.

“Our research has found a link between bone loss and dementia, but further studies are needed to better understand this connection between bone density and memory loss,” he says.

“It’s possible that bone loss may occur already in the earliest phases of dementia, years before any clinical symptoms manifest themselves. If that were the case, bone loss could be an indicator of risk for dementia and people with bone loss could be targeted for screening and improved care.”

Have you had a bone density scan before? Did it identify any problems? Let us know in the comments section below.

Also read: Seven surprising things you can do to build bone density

Brad Lockyer
Brad Lockyer
Brad has deep knowledge of retirement income, including Age Pension and other government entitlements, as well as health, money and lifestyle issues facing older Australians. Keen interests in current affairs, politics, sport and entertainment. Digital media professional with more than 10 years experience in the industry.
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