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 basic communication and the performance of 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.
Research has now proven a link between diabetes and Alzheimer’s. When blood sugar is too high, as occurs in uncontrolled diabetes, the extra sugar causes damage to nerves and organs as blood circulates throughout the body.
In addition, the reduced levels of insulin in a diabetic’s brain can directly stimulate cognitive decline and the potential development of Alzheimer’s. A diabetic’s insulin resistance prevents effective flow of glucose for brain cells to use as fuel. Damage to blood vessels in the brain, along with the inflammation caused by high blood sugar, can also encourage the development of Alzheimer’s.
All that being said, there are ways that diabetics can help protect themselves against the development of Alzheimer’s. A recent study found that people who engaged in moderate physical activity (like a brisk walk) for at least 68 minutes a day, experienced better glucose metabolism.
This is especially important for diabetics, because there is already a buildup of excess glucose in the bloodstream. This physical activity helps to clear the glucose from the bloodstream, and from the brain. This reduces risk for the development of Alzheimer’s.
This type of moderate-intensity exercise actually boosts neurological function, for diabetics and non-diabetics alike. Exercise can help keep the brain sharp, and prevent cognitive decline as we age. Research has also shown that it’s never too soon (or too late) to begin. The sooner you start, and the longer you stick with it, the more benefit you’re likely to experience.
In addition to exercise, be sure to track your blood sugar levels. 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.
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.
By maintaining an awareness of your thinking and memory skills, you can better document any decline. Speak with close family or friends and ask them to monitor any changes in your cognition; they may notice something you don’t.
Be sure to speak with your physician regarding your blood sugar levels, and your risk for 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.
Alzheimer’s is becoming more and more common, and it needs to be a topic of discussion, especially for those with high blood sugar.