Significant changes in body mass index are linked to faster progression of cognitive decline, according to a new study.

Investigators examined long-term health data from nearly 16,000 elderly participants from the Alzheimer’s Disease Centers. Participants did not have dementia at the start of the study, and were followed for an average of five years.

Measurements of cognitive function were compared between those with unstable BMI (an increase or decrease of 5% or more, or greatly variable) and their peers whose BMI remained stable.

All participants had some degree of cognitive decline over the study period. But the rate of decline was over 60% faster in the unstable BMI group, reported Michal Schnaider Beeri, Ph.D., of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. This held true no matter whether the older adult was at normal weight, overweight or obese at the start, Beeri and colleagues wrote.

There may be clinical value in tracking BMI during annual medical visits, the researchers proposed. BMI tracking is “simple, non-expensive, non-invasive, and quick to measure, as it may point to individuals whose cognition is declining and allow for early intervention,” the authors concluded. 

The study was published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia.