While the link is not fully understood yet, emerging research shows that people with type 2 diabetes are at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, as well as other forms of dementia. In fact, type 3 diabetes is a term often used to describe people who have type 2 diabetes and are also diagnosed with Alzheimer's or dementia.
With November being National Diabetes Month, let’s take a look at what we know about how diabetes affects memory loss.
One theory is that diabetes causes blood sugar to accumulate in the brain, which damages cells. Another theory is that high levels of circulating insulin damage the brain, causing memory problems. It’s also thought that blood vessel damage in the brain, brought on by diabetes, contributes to mental decline.
Whatever the cause, there is a growing amount of proof that diabetes and Alzheimer’s are linked in some fashion. In fact, according to recent studies, people with type 2 diabetes are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s as those without diabetes.
While that may sound scary, the good news is that type 2 diabetes, unlike type 1 diabetes, can often be prevented. And if you already have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, it can be managed, reducing complications that can come with diabetes.
Here are a few things you can do to decrease your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and long-term cognitive problems.
- Get moving. American Diabetes Association-funded research found that aerobic exercise leads to reductions in the levels of a protein in the cerebrospinal fluid (fluid found in the brain and spinal column), called tau protein, that is typically linked to Alzheimer's disease in older people.
- Know your numbers. One-third of American adults have pre-diabetes—and 90 percent of them don’t know it. This is important because lifestyle changes that can be made if a person knows they are pre-diabetic, such as losing weight, can help avoid full-on diabetes.
- Keep control. If you do have diabetes or pre-diabetes, take steps to control your blood sugar and keep it within a healthy range. That includes eating a lower carb diet, exercising and, if necessary, taking medication to bring your blood sugar levels down to normal.
If you are concerned about your risk of developing diabetes, consult a Fisher-Titus primary care physician to get a blood screen. If you have diabetes, Fisher-Titus has a Diabetes Self-Management program designed for people interested in learning more about diabetes management. Talk to your doctor today to see if that is an option for you.