Knowledge is power-so even though the news from a recent study on dementia is not exactly welcome, the information is indeed beneficial if it inspires people to take steps that can help keep their brains healthy. The findings are particularly important for people with diabetes... and also, surprisingly, for those with prediabetes, a condition that now affects half of Americans ages 65 and older.
Study details: 1,017 seniors did oral glucose tolerance tests (in which blood sugar is measured after fasting and again after consuming a sweet drink) to determine whether they had normal blood sugar levels .. .impaired glucose tolerance, a prediabetic condition .. . or diabetes. Participants were then followed for 15 years to see who developed Alzheimer's disease, vascular dementia (caused by blood vessel damage) or some other form of dementia.
Findings: Compared with participants who had normal blood sugar levels, those with prediabetes were 35% more likely to develop some type of dementia and 60% more likely to develop Alzheimer's. People with diabetes fared even worse, having a 74% higher risk for dementia of any kind, an 82% higher risk for vascular dementia and more than double the risk for Alzheimer's.
The connection: Diabetes and prediabetes can damage blood vessels, causing inflammation and lack of blood flow to the brain, which in turn lead to brain cell death... and/or excess glucose carried through the blood vessels to the brain may allow accumulation of proteins that damage nerve cells.
Self-defense: More research is needed... but for now, maintaining good blood sugar control seems like a sensible way to reduce dementia risk. Ask your doctor about getting screened for prediabetes and diabetes, particularly if you are over age 45, are overweight, have high blood pressure, have a family history of diabetes and/or have a history of diabetes during pregnancy.
If you have prediabetes: According to the American Diabetes Association, you can reduce your odds of developing diabetes by more than half by doing moderate exercise (such as brisk walking) for 30 minutes five days per week and losing 7% of your body weight (about 14 pounds if you currently weigh 200 or about 10 pounds if you weigh 150).
If you have diabetes: Be conscientious about controlling blood sugar through diet, exercise and/or medication... and talk to your doctor about seeing a neurologist if you notice signs of cognitive problems, such as memory loss.