Diabetes and Alzheimer's linked

Diabetes may increase your risk of Alzheimer's. Reduce this risk by controlling your blood sugar. Diet and exercise can help. By Mayo Clinic Staff

Diabetes and Alzheimer's disease are connected in ways that aren't completely understood. Though not all research confirms the connection, many studies indicate that people with diabetes, especially type 2 diabetes, are at higher risk of eventually developing Alzheimer's disease or other dementias.

Taking steps to prevent or control diabetes may help reduce your risk of Alzheimer's disease and other complications.

Understanding the connection

Diabetes can cause several complications, such as damage to your blood vessels. Diabetes is considered a risk factor for vascular dementia. This type of dementia occurs due to brain damage that is often caused by reduced or blocked blood flow to your brain.

Many people with diabetes have brain changes that are hallmarks of both Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia. Some researchers think that each condition fuels the damage caused by the other.

Ongoing research focuses on confirming the link between Alzheimer's and diabetes and understanding why it exists. The link between type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer's may occur as a result of the complex ways that type 2 diabetes affects the ability of the brain and other body tissues to use sugar (glucose) and respond to insulin.

Diabetes also may increase the risk of developing mild cognitive impairment, a condition in which people experience more thinking (cognitive) and memory problems than are usually present in normal aging. Mild cognitive impairment may lead to Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia.

Researchers continue to study the connections between diabetes and Alzheimer's, and potential ways to prevent or treat diabetes and Alzheimer's. For example, a study examined a medication used to treat type 2 diabetes to determine whether the medication also improves cognitive function in people with mild Alzheimer's disease. Results showed a positive change in cognitive function.

Apr. 03, 2013 See more In-depth