By Katherine Smith
In recent years, doctors and scientists are discovering more evidence of a relationship between type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. Exactly why those with type 2 diabetes appear to be at a slightly higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s is under debate, but a number of studies have demonstrated a link between the two.
What We Know
Some research shows that those with type 2 diabetes are, in some cases, twice as likely than others to develop Alzheimer’s later in life. Diet seems to play a large role in the development of Alzheimer’s, and both diseases are affected by the role insulin plays in the body. In individuals without diabetes, insulin helps cells take in blood sugar and keep the blood vessels that supply the brain healthy. Insulin also allows the neurons in the brain to take in and utilize glucose, which is the brain’s primary fuel source – and insulin also plays a role in many other brain functions, such as memory formation and learning.
Previous research has established a link between type 2 diabetes (i.e. insulin-resistant diabetes; the body produces a normal amount of insulin but cells don’t respond to it) and Alzheimer’s. But new research from Kaiser Permanente is demonstrating a correlation between type 1 diabetes and Alzheimer’s as well. The subject was previously not well-explored due to the fact that, in the past, many patients with type 1 diabetes did not live as long into their senior years – but now that most type 1 patients can expect to live well into the age range at which dementia typically develops, the potential of a connection can be scientifically explored.
Lowering the Risk Factor
It’s important to note that the study claims no evidence of causation – in other words, there’s no way to tell whether type 1 diabetes is causing Alzheimer’s; the evidence only shows that in patients who have one condition, a higher percentage than usual (compared to the general population) also have the other. Though there’s currently no cure for Alzheimer’s, it stands to reason that taking measures to prevent diabetes, or to manage the disease properly, could also lower one’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
As type 2 diabetes is often associated with being overweight or obese, a weight-loss plan developed with one’s doctor is an excellent way to reduce the effects of the condition. Controlling carbohydrate intake can also help type 2 patients manage their symptoms and control their diabetes. Creating an eating plan with a nutritionist is an option for patients who find themselves unsure of what to eat.
For those with type 1 diabetes, it’s important to take steps to monitor blood sugar levels and keep them as close to recommended levels as possible. Though injection therapy is an effective way to manage insulin, an insulin pump can help provide a steady dose of insulin throughout the day without injections. The device delivers a constant dose of insulin through a cannula inserted under the skin. A pump also has the added benefit of holding enough insulin to last for multiple days – the t:flexⓇ by Tandem holds 480 units, which can last for up to three days depending on an individual’s needs.
Although there are no clearly defined treatments for Alzheimer’s, researchers have begun exploring the possibility that some of the same medicines being used to treat type 2 diabetes can also help treat, or at least alleviate, some of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Doctors are also hopeful that further research can provide a more definitive picture of the link between Alzheimer’s and diabetes, as well as potentially produce a way to treat or prevent dementia.