There has been much
media coverage of the current “epidemic” of type
a chronic disease often associated with poor diet, obesity,
and a sedentary lifestyle. And because the disease takes many
years to develop, most of the people with newly-diagnosed
diabetes are 65 and older. Worse, a large fraction of people
with type II diabetes—and also a borderline, “pre-diabetic”
condition known as impaired
glucose tolerance—aren't even aware of their problem.
There are many health risks associated with diabetes, including
heart disease, vascular
disease, and loss of vision; but among older people, the
potential complications may also involve damage to the brain.
As described in our article Sweet
Memories, research to date suggests that elderly people
with diabetes may have a greater risk—perhaps twice
the risk—of developing dementia
(such as Alzheimer's
disease) compared to people without diabetes.
What's to be done? First of all, if you are middle-aged or
older, make sure to ask your doctor to check your blood sugar
periodically—particularly if you are overweight and
don't exercise much. If it turns out that you have do have
diabetes, or even borderline-high blood sugar, take it seriously.
Your doctor can advise you whether changes in diet and exercise
may be enough to control your condition, or whether medication
might be needed.
Second, if you do have diabetes, test your blood sugar and
keep it within the limits recommended by your doctor! While
many people (understandably) don't like sticking their fingers
to draw blood, it is important to check blood sugar levels,
especially after meals. New types of home glucose monitors
may allow you to draw blood for testing from less sensitive
locations, such as the forearm, and make the process of controlling
your blood sugar less uncomfortable.
Finally, even if your glucose levels are normal today, you
can help reduce your chances of developing diabetes in the
future by improving your diet. Large, well-done clinical trials
show that eating a healthy, high-fiber diet and exercising
on most days of the week can dramatically reduce your risk
of developing diabetes. It may take some effort to change
your habits now, but the payoff down the line may be a reduced
risk for diabetes, reduced risk for dementia and memory loss,
and an overall healthier life.
Catherine E. Myers, Ph.D.
Memory Disorders Project at Rutgers-Newark
Copyright © 2003 Memory Loss and the Brain