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While underactive thyroid disease is treatable, people with hypothyroidism can remain at risk for developing dementia later in life, according to a new study.

Millions of adults take daily medication for hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid gland. This happens when the body cannot produce enough hormones that help regulate metabolism. As a result, people with hypothyroidism can develop a range of symptoms, such as fatigue, body aches and weight gain, among others. According to the study, it’s also possible that the hormone shortage can impact cognitive functions. Thankfully, it appears that thyroid medication can be effective in preventing cognitive decline, but there’s a gray area.

What’s unclear is whether disease can lead to irreversible symptoms of the brain. Generally, patients undergoing treatment face a higher chance for developing dementia. At the same time, most people with dementia had zero history of hypothyroidism.

With these unknowns, it’s vital for older patients with hypothyroidism to pay closer attention to potential signs of cognitive decline. Ignoring hypothyroidism as a risk factor for dementia can lead to more complications later in life.

These insights are the result of a recent survey of medical histories of 15,000 older adults, half of whom were previously diagnosed with dementia. As part of the study, each patient was paired up with a participant who did not have dementia. It came to no surprise that a bigger share of individuals with dementia had a history of hypothyroidism. This risk factor is more impactful when compared to the interaction of heart disease, diabetes and depression symptoms can have on the development of dementia.

The statistics are grimmer among older adults. Patients over the age of 65 and with a history of hypothyroidism are over 80 percent more likely to develop dementia. Individuals undergoing hormone-replacement treatment were three times more likely compared to individuals without hypothyroidism.

A lot more research will be forthcoming. Of course, the recent studies do not draw a causal link between hypothyroidism and dementia. More work needs to be done to understand the biological mechanisms related to hypothyroidism, and how those might interact with cognitive decline, if at all. One related possibility, however, could be linked to the thyroid hormone called T3. It is known to decline as people age, which in turn can promote the build-up of beta-amyloid, a protein with pathological ties to people with Alzheimer’s.

More and more research continues to come out about dementia symptoms. Hopefully, one day we find a cure. In the meantime, it is important for the world to become more dementia aware. If you have any questions about my caregiver trainings, please contact me today.

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