Diabetes and Alzheimer’s Linked

Diabetes may increase your risk of Alzheimer’s. Reduce this risk by controlling your blood sugar. Diet and exercise can help.

Diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease are connected in ways that still aren’t completely understood. While not all research confirms the connection, many studies indicate that people with diabetes — especially type 2 diabetes — are at higher risk of eventually developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Taking steps to prevent or control diabetes may help reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Understanding the connection

Because diabetes damages blood vessels, it has long been recognized as a risk factor for vascular dementia — a type of cognitive decline caused by damaged blood vessels in the brain. Many people with cognitive decline have brain changes that are hallmarks of both Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. Some researchers think that each condition helps fuel the damage caused by the other.

Ongoing research focuses on confirming the link between Alzheimer’s and diabetes and understanding why it exists. The link between type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s may be especially strong as a result of the complex ways that type 2 diabetes affects the ability of the brain and other body tissues to use sugar (glucose) and respond to insulin.

Diabetes may also increase the risk of developing mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a transition stage between the cognitive changes of normal aging and the more serious problems caused by Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.

Greater insight into how diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease are connected may eventually reveal new strategies to avoid Alzheimer’s as a complication of diabetes. These insights may also suggest new Alzheimer’s treatments.

Reducing your risk of Alzheimer’s

Based on today’s knowledge, working with your health care team to prevent diabetes or manage your diabetes effectively is your best strategy to avoid complications — including those that may affect your brain.

Preventing diabetes or managing it successfully will also help you avoid other complications, including heart disease and damage to your eyes, kidneys and nerves in your feet.

Steps you can take to prevent or manage diabetes include:

  • Follow your health care team’s recommendations about the best plan for monitoring your blood glucose, cholesterol level and blood pressure.
  • Eat healthy foods, including fruits and vegetables, lean meats, whole grains, and low-fat milk and cheese.
  • Exercise at least 30 minutes most days of the week.
  • If your doctor prescribes medication, take it on schedule.

Small steps can make a big difference. In a large study funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, participants with blood sugar levels slightly above normal (prediabetes) cut their risk of developing type 2 diabetes in half by losing as little as 5 to 7 percent of their body weight and exercising for 30 minutes five days a week. That weight loss translates to 10 to 14 pounds (4.5 to 6.4 kilograms) for a 200-pound (90.7-kilogram) person.

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