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An Unholy Alliance between Diabetes and Dementia

Updated on December 8, 2019

Dementia is a syndrome of symptoms and signs, which affect the brain resulting in cognitive impairment, change in personality and behavioral problems. It is a normal part of aging and hence more common in geriatric population. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia.

The duration and severity of diabetes are both directly related to the acceleration and severity of dementia. It has also been found that 27% of people with diabetes aged 65 yrs and older develop some kind of dementia as compared to people of the same age without diabetes.

Scientists find more evidence that could link type-2 diabetes with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. Several research studies following large groups over many years suggest that adults with type-2 diabetes have a higher risk of later developing Alzheimer’s.

It has been proved that, similar to diabetes, glucose is not used properly in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. This may be caused by nerve cell death, which reduces the brain’s ability to interpret messages. In the case of vascular dementia, brain cells die due to lack of oxygen, preventing brain cells from communicating with each other.

In diabetics, high blood sugar or insulin can harm the brain in several ways:

  • Diabetes damages blood vessels in the brain, which may contribute to Alzheimer’s disease.
  • High blood sugar causes inflammation, which may damage brain cells and help Alzheimer’s to develop. Moreover, high levels of glucose create oxidative stress in the body, which results in buildup of harmful free radicals, causing inflammation. The buildup of beta amyloid plaques is partly the result of inflammation.
  • Beta amyloid plaques, which build up in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease, have also been shown to prevent insulin receptors in the brain from doing their job. This can impact insulin production and cause brain cells to become insensitive to insulin.

Is Alzheimer’s disease the type -3 diabetes? –

Recently, the researchers have found that the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease are insensitivity to insulin. There are many similarities in the brains of people with diabetes and the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. That is why Alzheimer’s disease has been labeled as type-3 diabetes by experts.

However, diabetes remains an important risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. Some people with diabetes may go on to develop dementia while many others may not.

Reducing the risk of dementia in diabetics –

The following are important tips, which diabetics can follow to reduce the risk of dementia -

  • Eat a healthy diet rich in vitamin D, folate, and B6 and B12 vitamins.
  • Eat healthy fats which are good for the brain.
  • Exercise regularly. Studies have shown that physical activity can prevent and even slow down the progression of cognitive decline and brain diseases like dementia.
  • Stay socially active and challenge yourself daily.
  • Control stress levels.
  • Get 8 hours of sleep every night. Studies have shown that poor sleep can become a risk factor for cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease.

The bottom line -

According to the statistics, 10 percent of people 65-year old, 25 percent of 75-year old, and 50 percent of 85-year old will develop dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. However, the fastest growing segment of our population is the 85-year-old. The recent studies show that people with diabetes have a four-fold risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease.

According to an estimate, 1 in 10 cases of dementia are attributable to diabetes. Therefore, it becomes the responsibility of diabetics to manage their disease effectively. Moreover, pre-diabetics must take all the measures to prevent it from developing into full fledged diabetes.


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