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The Link Between Diabetes and Dementia

< Sep. 21, 2011 > -- If you have type 2 diabetes - or even prediabetes - you are at higher risk of developing dementia, a complication confirmed by a new, large-scale study.

The study followed 1,017 men and women in Japan over 15 years. All were age 60 or older when the study began. All were screened initially to find out if they had diabetes or prediabetes.

Photo of older couple in car

About 27 percent of participants with diabetes developed dementia - Alzheimer's disease, vascular dementia, or another form of the disease - compared with only 20 percent of those who didn't have diabetes. And 25 percent of those with prediabetes developed dementia.

Growing number of cases

Study author Yutaka Kiyohara, M.D., at Kyushu University in Fukuoka, Japan, says that the study results are particularly significant because the incidence of type 2 diabetes continues to increase worldwide.

Nearly 26 million adults and children in the U.S. have diabetes, although about 7 million of them are undiagnosed, the American Diabetes Association says. Prediabetes affects even more Americans: 79 million. People with prediabetes are likely to develop diabetes within 10 years if they don't make lifestyle changes to bring their blood sugar under control.

In addition to dementia, complications from diabetes include kidney and heart disease, nerve damage, and blindness.

Significant study

Although previous studies had shown a link between diabetes and dementia, the current study is important because of its size and duration.

"This is a large study over a long period of time showing a possible connection between diabetes and dementia," says Heather Snyder, Ph.D., at the Alzheimer's Association. "We do know that diabetes increases the risk of dementia, but we don't really know why."

Another expert suggested that diabetes could be connected to dementia because it contributes to vascular disease, disrupting the flow of oxygen to the brain and other organs.

"Diabetes is a major risk factor for vascular disease," says Spyros Mezitis, M.D., at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "If the blood vessels are not allowing enough oxygen to get to the brain, you can get dementia."

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Keeping Diabetes Under Control

It's natural to feel overwhelmed at times if you have diabetes. Write down the things in your life that make it hard to stick with your routine. Then think of ways to improve the situation. Here are some suggestions:

  • Keep stress under control. Stress is a normal part of life. Mental stress causes the body to produce extra hormones. These hormones make it difficult to control your blood sugar. You can keep stress under control through exercise, hobbies, community activities, and relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises.

  • Get moving. Make it easy to get exercise. Exercise will help control your blood sugar, reduce stress, and control weight. Join a gym close to home or keep your walking shoes by the front door for a quick jaunt after dinner.

  • Eat well. Good nutrition and a careful meal plan will make it easier to manage your diabetes and control your weight. Buy nutritious foods. Stock your kitchen with fruits, vegetables, and high-fiber foods. You're less likely to succumb to cravings if high-fat treats are out of reach.

  • Stay up to date. Keep up with recommended screening exams and immunizations for you and your family. Although your attention is focused on managing your diabetes, don't forget to have recommended dental checkups, cholesterol and cancer screenings recommended for your age and gender, and vaccinations, such as an annual flu shot.

  • Know what to do when you get sick. Colds, the flu, and intestinal upsets are common, but they can make control of your blood sugar more difficult. Talk with your health care provider and plan how you will take care of yourself if you become ill.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

Online Resources

(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)

Alzheimer's Association - Alzheimer's Disease and Type 2 Diabetes: What's the Link?

American Diabetes Association - Complications

Neurology - Glucose tolerance status and risk of dementia in the community