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woman with alzheimers and diabetes looking out the window

Diabetes and Alzheimer’s – New Research Suggests a Connection

When blood sugar is too high, as occurs in uncontrolled diabetes, the extra sugar can cause damage to nerves and organs as blood circulates throughout the body. Cardiovascular disease, stroke, even blindness are associated with diabetes due to prolonged high blood sugar.

This damage can also affect the brain.  A new report from US News supports a link between diabetes and Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. It is a progressive brain disease that destroys an individual’s memory, the ability to learn and make decisions, even communicate and perform daily activities.

As the disease gradually progresses, the individual may experience changes in behavior and personality, increased anxiety or agitation, even delusions. Alzheimer’s disease is fatal, and is the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S.

Nearly 5.5 million people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. One out of every eight individuals over the age of 65 has Alzheimer’s, and one out of every two individuals over the age of 85 have the disease. As the baby-boomer generation ages, Alzheimer’s diagnosis rates are expected to skyrocket.

How are diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease connected?

According to research, insulin resistance, if left untreated, may be one of the first signs of cognitive decline. Laura Ekblad, lead study author and researcher at the University of Turku in Finland, reveals “More and more evidence shows that insulin has specific and important effects on the brain. When insulin resistance is present, transportation of insulin to the brain is reduced.”

Previous studies have shown that reduced levels of insulin in the brain can directly stimulate cognitive decline and the potential development of Alzheimer’s. In addition, insulin resistance prevents effective flow of glucose for brain cells to use as fuel.

Click here to read more about how diabetes affects the brain.

Type II diabetes is also a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Elevated cholesterol, as well as irregular blood pressure, can lead to vascular changes in the brain. Damage to blood vessels in the brain, along with the inflammation caused by high blood sugar, can encourage the development of Alzheimer’s.

So what can you do to reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease?

Know your blood sugar levels! The study found that the link between insulin resistance and declining cognition is present long before the first severe symptom is experienced, and frequently even before the diagnosis of diabetes.

Controlling your sugar levels will have a huge impact on decreasing your risk for Alzheimer’s. When blood sugar is regulated there will be more insulin available for the brain to use, more fuel for the brain cells, and less inflammation in the blood vessels and brain tissue.

Physical activity is another positive when it comes to controlling diabetes and preventing Alzheimer’s. An article from Caring Kind states, “thirty-minutes of vigorous walking or resistance training, performed three times per week, significantly slows progression of Alzheimer’s disease in those affected, and delays or protects from Alzheimer’s disease in those unaffected.”

What an impact!

Linda Barnes, Ph.D., associate professor at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago, confirms more exercise, better eating habits, and smoking cessation as lifestyle changes one can impart to lower one’s risk or improve one’s outcome.

Everyone has lapses in memory now and again. Can’t remember where you parked your car, or where you left your keys? Brief moments of forgetfulness are not likely to be a sign of Alzheimer’s, but as we age, we must keep tabs on our cognition.

Linda Barnes goes on to explain that by maintaining an awareness of your thinking and memory skills, you can better document any decline. She also recommends speaking with close family or friends and asking them to monitor any changes in your cognition; they may notice something you don’t.

Also be sure to speak with your physician regarding your risk for diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. Ask about additional ways to protect your brain and your body. Working with your healthcare team is essential in achieving and maintaining great health.

For diabetics especially, Alzheimer’s needs to be a topic of discussion. Laura Ekblad makes it clear, “Whatever your current blood sugar level, taking control of it now may mean the difference between a future with or without Alzheimer’s.”

 

 

Sources:

http://health.usnews.com/health-news/patient-advice/articles/2015/08/28/the-surprising-link-between-type-2-diabetes-and-alzheimers-disease

https://www.alz.org/national/documents/latino_brochure_diabetes.pdf

http://www.alznyc.org/nyc/newsletter/fall2012/02.asp

http://www.diabeticlivingonline.com/complications/other/can-diabetes-cause-alzheimers-disease?page=0%2C4

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