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Is There a Link Between Diabetes and Alzheimer’s?

Approximately 21 million Americans suffer from diabetes, a disease that makes it difficult for the body to convert sugar to energy, with six million people unaware they even have it. Scientists have found a link between Type 2 diabetes (the most common, linked to lack of exercise and being overweight) and Alzheimer’s disease (the most common form of dementia and leading cause of death in this country), according to the Alzheimer’s Association. If you have a loved one in hospice in San Mateo and elsewhere who suffers from both conditions, you may be enlightened by the recent findings.

Uncontrolled diabetes equals too much sugar in the blood, which can damage vital organs, including the brain, over time. Multiple studies performed in large groups over many years suggest that those with type 2 diabetes are at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s later on.

Making the Connection

Diabetes can bring on many complications, not the least of which is damage to your blood vessels. Diabetes is a risk factor for vascular dementia, which is a kind of dementia that happens due to brain damage caused by reduced or blocked blood flow to the brain, says the Mayo Clinic. Studies show that many with diabetes indicate changes in the brain that are risk factors for both Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia, with researchers suspecting that each condition feeds off the damage caused by the other.

The link between the two may result from the complex ways in which type 2 diabetes affects the ability of the brain to use sugar (also referred to as glucose) and respond to insulin. Additionally, diabetes may boost the risk of the development of mild cognitive impairment, where victims experience more cognitive and memory problems than are typically present during the normal course of aging. Mild cognitive impairment is thought to precede or accompany Alzheimer’s disease.

There are many reasons why the connection could be made, including:

  • Insulin Resistance: When cells don’t utilize insulin the proper way, this can affect the brain’s mechanics. When your brain cells aren’t fueled properly, the brain can’t function correctly, resulting in blood sugar levels to rise. This, over time, can create harmful fatty deposits in the blood vessels. Having too much insulin can upset the chemical balance in the brain, according to WebMD. The impact on the brain is so strong that scientists now know that Alzheimer’s related to insulin resistance should be referred to as type 3 diabetes.
  • Inflammation and Blood Vessel Damage: Those who have diabetes are at a higher risk of heart attack and stroke. High blood sugar levels can cause bouts of inflammation, which puts stress on the blood vessels. Those damaged vessels can then result in Alzheimer’s. Additionally, inflammation could make cells insulin-resistant especially in the case of obese people.
  • Blocked Nerve Communication: High blood sugar is connected with higher levels of beta amyloid, which is a protein that, when clumped together, can become stuck between the nerve cells in the brain and cause blocked signals. Nerve cells that fail to communicate are a big trait associated with Alzheimer’s.
  • Tangled Tau Protein: Your cells are always moving food and other supplies along pathways, akin to railroad tracks. A protein referred to as tau helps these tracks run in straight rows. In brains of Alzheimer’s patients, however, tau gets all tangled up, leading to falling-apart tracks and dead cells. Some studies says those with diabetes have more tangles of tau in their brains, resulting in more dying cells in the brain, which as we know can lead to dementia.

Reduce Your Risk

There are steps you can take to help yourself or a loved one reduce the risk of the Alzheimer’s/diabetes connection. It’s important to work with your doctor to either prevent diabetes or manage it effectively in order to avoid or reduce complications.

By preventing diabetes or managing it the right way, you may avoid other complications, such as:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Kidney disease
  • Eye damage
  • Nerve damage, which may cause diabetic neuropathy, a pain in your feet or hands
  • Digestive problems, also known as gastroparesis

To prevent or manage diabetes and avoid potential complications, heed these tips:

  • Follow recommendations set by the health care team regarding the most appropriate plan for monitoring your blood glucose, cholesterol level and blood pressure, or that of your loved one.
  • Eat healthy foods, including vegetables, fruits, lean meats, whole grains, and low-fat milk and cheese.
  • If you’re overweight, eat a healthy diet and exercise to shed pounds, as obesity can result in diabetes and a host of other health problems.
  • Exercise for at least a half hour a few times a week.
  • Examine your feet every day for sores.
  • Take prescribed medications on a schedule and don’t miss a dose.

One study showed that participants with blood sugar levels that registered slightly above normal (pre-diabetes) reduced their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by more than 50 percent. They achieved this through exercise and as little as a five percent loss in body weight, translating to 10 to 14 pounds for a 200-pound person.

Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice

To learn more about our resources for dementia patients and grief support, please contact us at 888-755-7855.