If your belly's been getting bigger, you may be at risk for a lot more than the infamous weight-related problems.

You could be facing dementia.

A new study finds that women who have bigger bellies in middle age have a much higher risk for dementia in old age.

The Swedish study published in Neurology looked at data on 1,500 women who were between the ages of 38 and 60 starting in the 1960s. These women underwent extensive physicals and answered questions about their health and lifestyles.

During a follow-up 32 years later, researchers discovered that 161 of the women had developed dementia... and that women with broader waists than hips in middle age had more than double the risk.

While these researchers only looked at the data on women, other studies have shown that men are at risk too.

A California study published last year found that men and women alike with the highest amounts of abdominal fat had three times the risk of developing dementia than those with the smallest amounts of abdominal fat.

In both studies, the increased risk of dementia appeared to exist independent of other factors – including weight. People with bigger bellies who managed to maintain a normal overall weight still had an increased risk of dementia.

While the Swedish researchers found no connection between overall body mass and dementia, the California study did – concluding that overweight people with normal-sized bellies still had an 80 percent increase in the risk of dementia.

What's the connection between bellies and brains?

There are plenty of theories, of course – but no one can say for sure just yet. It seems quite likely that the hormonal imbalances created by all that extra weight is playing a big role here. Pack on the pounds in middle age, and all those hormones have decades to go to work on your body – leading to dementia, Alzheimer's and plenty of other conditions later on.

When you consider that belly fat also leads to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and early death, there's really no shortage of motivating factors to kick-start your own weight-loss plan.

And if you don't – you face losing your mind before you lose your life.