Researchers look at preventing memory disorders by controlling blood sugar now.
As the rates of those with diabetes and dementia continue to increase scientists have found that the two diseases share several keybiological processes. Making a conscious effort to maintain healthy blood sugar levels now could pay dividends in the future by reducing your risk of being stricken with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.
The concept that brain diseases share little in common with diseases arising elsewhere in the body is rapidly crumbling, says Debra Cherry, executive vice president of the Alzheimer’s Assn. California Southland. The key characteristics found in the development of heart disease and stroke — clogged arteries and inflammation in cells — also affect the brain.
“On the flip side”, she adds, “what is good for the reduction of diabetes risk is also good for reduction of the risk of cognitive impairment.”
About 6.8 million people in the U.S. have some type of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common, affecting 5.4 million people, a number that is projected to double by 2040, according to the Alzheimer’s Assn. The cause of Alzheimer’s is unknown, although studies show people with the disease have higher concentrations of clumps made up of a protein called beta amyloid in their brains.
More than 8% of American adults and children have either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, a number that is expected to grow in conjunction with the rise in rates of obesity, which is a risk factor for the Type 2 form of the disease. Diabetes is diagnosed when the body can’t produce enough insulin or use insulin properly to remove sugar from the bloodstream. When blood sugar remains too high, it can damage organs and lead to heart disease, kidney failure, nerve damage and many other complications. There are medications to lower blood sugar, and in severe cases, people with diabetes must take insulin.
Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in childhood and requires insulin, while Type 2 typically involves weight gain in adulthood. But both diseases could affect cognitive health later in life.
The relationship between diabetes and dementia diseases drew headlines in September 2011 when a large study conducted in Japan reported that people with diabetes are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. The study, published in the journal Neurology, found that even people with impaired glucose tolerance — a level of poor glucose control that precedes diabetes — were 35% more likely to develop some type of dementia.
An estimated 1 in 10 cases of dementia may be attributable to diabetes, says neurologist Dr. Geert Jan Biessels of Utrecht University in the Netherlands and a leading researcher on the relationship between the two diseases. These disorders may contribute to dementia decades before symptoms such as memory loss occur. Thus, he says, treating diabetes and the risk factors associated with it — such as hypertension andhigh cholesterol— may help prevent many dementia cases.
The disheartening failure in recent years to find effective treatments for Alzheimer’s disease has caused researchers to look with extra interest at the link to diabetes and other diseases such as heart disease and stroke.
Genetics also shows a link between the two diseases. People with a mutation known as ApoE4, who are known to have a higher risk for Alzheimer’s disease, also have an increased risk of diabetes.
Still, trying to prevent dementia by treating diabetes is not an easy matter. Two important studies published in 2008 showed that strict control of blood sugar raised the risk of severe hypoglycemia — a condition in which blood sugar drops too low — that can lead to seizures, coma or death.
One new study indicates that controlling diabetes more gently can help. Researchers at Columbia University examined 2,169 people ages 55 and older with Type 2 diabetes. Those who receive education to better control their diabetes — within the established guidelines for normal diabetes control, not hyper-aggressively, had better blood sugar control and slower cognitive decline compared with those who did not have the intervention. The study was published in June in the Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging. If you need help managing your diabetes senior home healthcare can ease your burden. Bayshore Home Care provides caregivers at home that can help you with managing your disease as well as light housekeeping, meal preperation and companionship.
Though the effect of diabetes management on dementia risk is still uncertain, Suzanne Johnson, Administrator of Bayshore Home Care, encourages everyone to maintain a healthy diet, and exercise regularly to help sustain proper blood sugar levels in order to lower the risk of many disorders associated with diabetes.
According to Debra Cherry regular moderate exercise can reduce the risk of diabetes by half. Moreover, efforts to reduce abdominal fat may reduce the rate of cognitive decline, since carrying significant belly fat raises the risk of late-onset Alzheimer’s disease in both middle-aged and elderly people, according to a study published online in June in the journal Alzheimer’s Disease and Associated Disorders.
Scientists continue to seek remedies for two major diseases that appear to be bound tightly together.