When most people think of the negative effects of diabetes dementia link is not often considered or mentioned. However, recent studies by scientists in Japan have found that diabetes patients are almost twice as likely to show cognitive impairment in later life as those who are not diabetic.
As with all links between diseases, you can watch for some key warning signs to prevent further complications and take appropriate steps ahead of time for both conditions.
Researchers continue to study diabetes and related complications, but the exact science remains unclear regarding the diabetes dementia link. A few external examiners have begun to look at the Japanese data and are trying to explain the significant relationship between diabetes dementia and have formed some theories that include:
- Insulin resistance – Some forms of type 2 diabetes are caused by a natural increase in the body’s resistance to insulin, which is the chemical that breaks down blood sugar into energy. This resistance has also been linked to a decrease in the body’s ability to break down amyloid, which is a protein that your nervous system needs for healthy functioning. A build up of amyloid can cause brain plaques, creating the signs of dementia.
- High blood sugar – Another common factor of untreated diabetes is an elevated blood sugar level, because the body does not produce enough insulin to convert all of the glucose. The high blood sugar can cause oxidative stress, which is where cells receive too much oxygen and expand, putting pressure on nearby cells. This is thought to be one of the key diabetes dementia links.
- Vascular dementia – Among the many causes of memory loss and dementia, one of the biggest is from vascular problems, such as a stroke. A stroke dramatically reduces the oxygen supply to the brain, which can cause cell death if left untreated. Diabetes patients are more likely to develop vascular problems due to their unstable blood sugar levels and increased blood pressure.
Knowing whether someone is suffering from a diabetes dementia combination or just dementia can be difficult without diagnostic testing, as many of the symptoms are the same. Doctors will tell their diabetic patients that they are at significant risk; however, those with undiagnosed diabetes or pre-diabetes may not realize the risk to their health. The following warning signs are a good indication a person with dementia should undergo testing for diabetes:
- Visual problems – Diabetes puts pressure on all blood cells to work harder and this can cause some capillaries to burst. The weakest ones are at the extremities of your body and in your retina, so diminished vision can be an early sign of diabetes.
- Loss of motor control – This is due in part to the lack of sensation and control from the burst capillaries and in part due to a lack of oxygen to the motor part of your brain. This lack of oxygen is a good indicator of the involvement of diabetes in the early onset of dementia.
Sudden drowsiness – While this is a key sign of diabetes, some people attribute it to the onset of dementia. Even for older adults, suddenly falling asleep or feeling very drowsy is not normal and is a big warning sign that the body’s blood sugar levels are spiking and dropping rapidly.
One of the main concerns of the diabetes dementia link is that once a diabetic has dementia as well, further problems can arise, which fall into two rough categories:
- Physical – Dementia impairs the brain’s ability to receive oxygen and blood sugar, which in turn puts stress on the body to provide more resources to the brain. This increase in demand for glucose puts more stress on the body to produce more insulin and in long-term diabetics this stress can cause organs to stop functioning all together.
- Mental – Diabetes can be a very tricky disease to manage, but for most diabetics the routines of checking blood sugar levels, injections and maintaining healthy eating habits quickly become part of their day to day life. However, dementia sufferers can lose track of time, forget that they have taken their medicine or revert to old lifestyle choices without realizing. This then puts them at risk of damaging their health further and possibly putting themselves at risk of a stroke or heart attack.
As with both conditions, a patient suffering from the diabetes dementia link will find that no permanent long-term cure currently exists. However, diabetics should make sure that they are aware of the signs of early onset dementia and make those close to them aware of their routine for coping with diabetes. They should also look carefully at their diet as a close link between nutrition and Alzheimers, which is another form of dementia that diabetics are more likely to develop.