How Type 2 Diabetes is Linked to Dementia

January 04,2022 |
Doctor talking to her diabetes patient.

In today’s society, higher rates of obesity and inactivity are creating more opportunities for type 2 diabetes to flourish and cause serious long-term complications. Over 34 million Americans are currently suffering from diabetes and approximately 90 to 95% of these diagnoses are classified as type 2 diabetes. While type 2 diabetes tends to have a later onset, more children, teens, and even young adults are being diagnosed than ever. This is important to address, since the longer an individual has diabetes, the more likely they will experience some type of serious complication in their lifetime. While many people know about the risk of diabetic foot ulcers, diabetic neuropathy, and heart disease, type 2 diabetes can also lead to problems in neural functioning. Here, we’ll discuss how type 2 diabetes is linked to dementia and what you can do to help keep your brain healthy and strong.

Understanding Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition that occurs when your body doesn’t utilize insulin properly or develops a resistance to the insulin being made. It’s caused by a combination of genetics and unhealthy lifestyle habits like obesity and consuming ultra-processed foods. While there are ways to prevent type 2 diabetes, once prediabetes progresses you will need to utilize medications like insulin to stay healthy and avoid potentially dangerous complications. By taking care of yourself and managing your type 2 diabetes, you can boost your longevity and live an otherwise normal life.

When diabetes is left untreated, high concentrations of glucose can accumulate in the blood stream. This can create substantial damage to your organs, including the brain. Some of the effects of diabetes on the body include changes to the endocrine, excretory, and digestive systems that can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis, kidney damage like diabetic nephropathy, gastroparesis, and diabetic hyperglycemic hyperosmolar syndrome (HHS). Unmanaged diabetes can also severely impact your circulatory system, which can cause high blood pressure, increase your risk of heart attack and stroke, and inhibit wound healing throughout your body. This is especially dangerous in the case of diabetic foot ulcers that are unnoticed or left untreated. Diabetes creates an array of skin problems and, in serious cases, create long-lasting nerve damage throughout your body called diabetic neuropathy. Diabetes can cause vision loss, lead to amputation, and even increase your risk for dementia.

Important Information About Dementia

There are several different types of cognitive impairment that are caused by neural degeneration. The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, but vascular dementia and mild cognitive impairment can also cause problems in daily life. These impairments can lead to issues with concentration, recognition, learning, remembering, and even making simple decisions. Oftentimes, mild cognitive impairment is a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia. Dementia is a very progressive disease that slowly destroys an individual’s brain. In addition to the impaired functioning, dementia can also cause drastic changes to an individual’s personality and behavior. The risk of developing dementia increases with age but can be present in younger individuals as early-onset dementia. Genetics often play a role in the development of dementia, but in many instances, it leads to fatal outcomes. In addition to genetics, there are a few other factors that have been shown to increase an individual’s risk for developing dementia. One of these factors is type 2 diabetes.

The Connection Between Type 2 Diabetes and Dementia

Diabetes creates several complications, especially when it’s not properly managed or diagnosed. Among these complications, diabetes has been known to increase your risk for vascular dementia, which is caused by a reduction in blood flow to your brain. The prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease also increases in those living with diabetes. Some research even indicates that dementia and diabetes act in a destructive cycle, where each of the conditions fuels damage caused by the others. Regardless of this cycle, it’s important to understand the connection between type 2 diabetes and dementia to help decrease risk and improve overall longevity.

Considering the impact of diabetes on heart health, researchers can understand how diabetes is associated with declining brain health. Heart health and brain health are directly related, as your brain needs an adequate amount of blood flow to function its best. However, this would often be explained by an individual suffering from dementia following a stroke. Yet, some studies found that diabetes still increase your risk of dementia even when strokes were controlled. Some of the most likely factors that increase the link between diabetes and dementia include the following.

Insulin Resistance

Your body needs insulin to properly manage the levels of glucose in the blood. Without insulin, your cells can’t be fueled properly, which impairs their function. Overtime, high blood sugar levels caused by insulin resistance can create fatty deposits in the blood vessels and alter your brain’s chemical balance. The link between insulin and dementia has been studied to a point that many scientists now refer to Alzheimer’s related insulin resistance as type 3 diabetes.

Inflammation and Blood Vessel Damage

People living with type 2 diabetes are more susceptible to inflammation and blood vessel damage, which leads to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. The increase of stress on your blood vessels can contribute to cognitive impairments like Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Blocked Nerve Communication

Long-term levels of high blood sugar can lead to increased beta amyloid, which can cause blockages in your brain’s neural pathways. This can lead to mild cognitive impairment, but over time may lead to larger problems. Blocked nerve communication is a common aspect of dementia, which is why managing your blood sugar levels is so important.

Tangled Tau Protein

Tau proteins help keep neural pathways straight so that signals can be properly communicated. It’s been suggested that people living with diabetes may have higher rates of tangled tau proteins, which can increase cellular death within the brain and cause dementia.

How to Reduce Long-Term Effects of Diabetes

The longer an individual suffers from type 2 diabetes, the higher their risk for dementia is. This is especially true when diabetes goes unmanaged or undiagnosed as high blood sugar levels have more opportunities to create long-lasting damage throughout the body and brain. Research indicates that individuals at age 70 who had been diagnosed more than 10 years prior with diabetes showed a doubling in their dementia risk; dementia risk at age 70 rose 24% for every five years people had been living with diabetes. To make sure that you do what you can to reduce the long-term effects of diabetes—like dementia—it’s important that you take the proper steps to get healthy and always use proper diabetes management procedures.

If you’re living with type 2 diabetes, the best way to protect yourself from complications, including dementia, is to transition into a healthier lifestyle. Try to work on eliminating excess sodium, unhealthy fats, and processed sugar from your diet. Instead, try cooking using nutritious filled diabetes meal plans. By eating a healthier diet, you’ll stabilize your blood glucose levels more naturally and give your body the vitamins and minerals it needs to function its best. It’s also important to increase your exercise level, especially if you work a sedentary job. Exercising is a great way to lose weight, improve your immune system, and boost your mood and productivity levels. Start slow, but aim for at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, five days a week with strength training or yoga. See your doctor regularly to check for high blood pressure or high cholesterol and make sure that you follow treatment plans as necessary. Maintaining a positive attitude and doing things you love can help boost brain health and reduce your risk of dementia, so try and have some fun even when you feel like you’re too busy.

Most importantly, you need to regularly check your blood glucose levels and work with your doctor to create a diabetes management plan that works for you. Always see your doctor for regular checkups and if you feel like you’re having trouble with cognitive tasks, see a neurologist or specialist to catch problems early. Degeneration cannot be reversed, but with certain treatments and activities, it can be slowed.

To help make sure you’re doing everything you can to manage your diabetes effectively and reduce your risks of dementia, Byram Healthcare has a range of continuous blood glucose monitors. We also offer diabetes support and educational materials to give you everything you need for comprehensive care.