The prevalence of diabetes is growing in our society, with over 34 million Americans having the disease and 90–95% of them suffering from type 2 diabetes. Due to rising levels of obesity and inactivity, type 2 diabetes is now frequently seen even in children.
Type 2 diabetes is known to create a heightened risk of stroke, heart disease, loss of vision, and kidney disease. However, it has also been consistently associated with increased levels of cognitive impairment, including Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia.
What Is Type 2 Diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes is a long-term condition characterized by insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone made by your pancreas that allows blood sugar to enter the cells of the body so it can be converted into energy. When you have type 2 diabetes, your cells stop responding to insulin. This causes your pancreas to make more insulin to make up for the lack of response, which causes high blood sugar that ultimately can develop into prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.
What Is the Link between Diabetes and Dementia?
Dementia occurs as a result of brain cells malfunctioning—whether due to the degeneration of neurons or other systems in the body. Many people with diabetes experience brain changes that are very similar to those of people with Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia. Apart from the risk to blood vessels in the brain from a stroke, high blood sugar causes an imbalance in certain brain chemicals and can cause inflammation which damages brain cells.
Research also shows that high blood sugar generates an increase in a protein called beta-amyloid, which is toxic to the brain. Additionally, people with type 2 diabetes usually experience several comorbidities such as hypertension, obesity, and depression, all of which can further increase the risk of developing dementia.
Apart from high blood sugar, people with diabetes often suffer from bouts of hypoglycemia, where their blood sugar is lower than normal. While lower blood sugar reduces the risk of hypertension and stroke, too much hypoglycemia can damage the hippocampus—which is the memory center of the brain.
Uncontrolled Type 2 Diabetes Creates a Higher Risk of Developing Dementia
Although diabetes itself can increase the chances of cognitive impairment, a recent study published in the Alzheimer’s & Dementia journal shows that poorly controlled diabetes has a much higher risk in comparison. The results of the study found that people with prediabetes had a 12% higher risk of developing cognitive impairment, and people with diabetes had a 34% higher chance.
However, participants in the study who had well-controlled diabetes—which is defined as an A1C value lower than 7%—showcased significantly lower chances of developing cognitive impairment or dementia. While those with well-controlled diabetes showed a risk of 20%, participants with a higher A1C level had a risk of 101%.
How to Reduce Your Risk of Diabetes and Dementia
Although diabetes is a lifelong disease, some steps can be taken to manage it, and therefore reduce your risk of developing further complications. Work with your doctor or healthcare provider to see how you can modify your lifestyle to help prevent or reduce complications.
Some common lifestyle changes you can make are:
- Exercise daily, preferably for at least 30 minutes a day.
- Change your diet.
- Avoid smoking.
- Make sure you maintain a healthy weight.
- If you suffer from high blood pressure or high cholesterol, speak to your doctor about medication.
- Keep your brain engaged by learning new things, engaging in social activities, listening to music, and more.
Although it can be difficult to live with type 2 diabetes, taking small steps can make a difference in becoming healthier. If you need help managing your diabetes or have questions, reach out to us at Helping Diabetics USA! We work to ensure that everyone with diabetes can get the medication they deserve. Contact us today to learn more!