Posts Tagged ‘Alzheimer’s Disease’

Lifestyle-Related Ills Tend to Multiply with Age, Study Finds

April 24th, 2013 at 7:13 am by timigustafson

Seniors who suffer from chronic health conditions like high blood pressure or heart disease often develop a host of other, seemingly unrelated health problems, including cognitive impairment like memory loss and dementia, according to a new study based on data collected by the National Center for Health Statistics.

For the study, the researchers analyzed the medical records of hundreds of thousands of seniors residing in assisted-living facilities and found that most had at least one chronic health condition. What was more alarming, however, was that many had overlapping ailments. While high blood pressure and heart disease were most common, nearly half of the assisted-living residents showed signs of dementia.

“These findings suggest a vulnerable population with a high burden of functional and cognitive impairment,” the authors of the study report wrote.

Many studies have suggested a link between vascular disease and dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s, said Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy, a professor for psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University’s Institute for Brain Sciences (DIBS). Therefore it may not be possible to treat dementia without treating vascular problems, he added.

But that may be easier said than done. “We don’t universally do a great job of how we treat conditions that overlap, for example Alzheimer’s and high blood pressure,” said Dr. Cythia M. Boyd, an associate professor of geriatric medicine at the John Hopkins University Center on Aging and Health, to the New York Times. “Much of the way we practice medicine is looking at disease by disease. We aren’t doing enough thinking about how to add them together and really integrate care.”

What makes things more complicated is that most doctors are not sufficiently trained in preventing or reducing lifestyle-related illnesses – not in the general public and certainly not in older patients – other than through medicating. For instance, the importance of nutrition as a part of preventive care is rarely ever mentioned in medical schools. The approximate time devoted to nutrition science over the first two years of medical education is six hours, which is clearly inadequate, according to the National Academy of Sciences. The same goes for other health-promoting measures such as exercise, especially for the aging population.

Yet many studies have provided compelling evidence that diet and exercise play a significant role for physical and mental health at any time in life but increasingly so as we age.

For example, a more recent study from Britain concluded that the so-called “Western diet,” which typically includes fried, sweet and processed foods, red meat, refined grains and high-fat dairy products, increases the risk of chronic diseases, which in turn can adversely affect both physical and mental health in later years. Eating a Western diet makes it less likely to have an ideal aging process, says Dr. Tasnime Akbaraly, a researcher at the University College of London and lead author of the study report. Conversely, making dietary improvements can yield multiple benefits in this regard.

There is also further evidence that exercise can give a boost to the aging brain. Scientists at the University of British Columbia found that older women who suffered from mild cognitive impairment could improve their memory through weight training and brisk walking.

The connections between physical and mental decline may not yet be completely understood, but it seems clear that chronic diseases play a major role in the process. While these are widespread, the encouraging news is that many, if not all, are preventable by healthier lifestyle choices.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

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One of the most feared health problems the aging Baby Boomer generation will face is dementia. And it won’t just affect those suffering from mental decline but also those who care for them and society at large, at least in financial terms.

A new study predicts that healthcare costs in connection with age-related dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, will soon surpass almost all other medical expenses, including for heart disease and cancer, two of today’s leading causes of death.

The study, which was conducted by economists at the RAND Corporation and sponsored by the federal government, found that expenditures for dementia patients will at least double by 2040.

3.8 million Americans age 71 and older are now diagnosed with some form of age-related cognitive decline. In another generation, the researchers say, there will be over 9 million.

Direct healthcare costs, including nursing home care, per dementia patient run currently between $41,000 and $56,000 a year. Total expenses in the United States in 2010, the year the study collected its data, ranged from $159 billion to 215 billion. It is projected that these numbers will increase to well over $500 billion annually by mid-century.

Not included in these calculations are the costs of what is considered “informal care,” which is usually provided by family members and voluntary caregivers. It is hard to put a price tag on their efforts, but the study estimates a total of $50 billion to $106 billion spent per year.

“The long-term care costs associated with people with dementia are particularly high because of the nature of the disease,” said Donald Moulds, assistant secretary for planning and evaluation at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), in an interview with the New York Times. “People eventually become incapable of caring for themselves, and then in the vast majority of cases, their loved ones become incapable of caring for them.”

So far, there is no cure or effective treatment for dementia. However, there are numerous studies suggesting that certain preventive measures may be helpful, at least in terms of delaying or slowing the debilitating effects.

For instance, certain health and lifestyle factors associated with the risk of Alzheimer’s disease can be controlled, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Scientists are exploring whether prevention strategies like physical exercise, diet and intellectual stimulation can counteract deterioration. Controlling body weight and blood pressure are among the most common recommendations experts give in this regard. Also, keeping the brain engaged by constant learning and participating in a lively social environment are thought to be helpful.

Unfortunately, most of this is guesswork. The truth is that we don’t know why dementia is so dramatically on the rise. Is the reason that we live longer, that we eat the wrong foods, that we exercise too little, that we watch too much TV, that we find ourselves increasingly isolated as we grow older – all of the above and more? We don’t know.

Still, we cannot sit idly and ignore the facts. In any case, adherence to a healthy lifestyle will do no harm. We may not find out the specific causes, if there are any, and there may not be an effective treatment available for the foreseeable future.

But in the meantime, we can and should do everything in our power to stay as healthy and active as possible for as long as we can. A good way of going about that is to satisfy all our health needs in every aspect by eating right, exercising regularly, reducing stress, getting enough sleep, nursing relationships, reading books, learning foreign languages and computer programs and so forth. Not one but all of these together make for what I have called the “pillars of our wellbeing.” Until there are better options, that’s all we can do, and that’s not nothing.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com). You can follow Timi on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest

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Healthy Aging: Exercising the Body Benefits the Mind, Too

July 18th, 2012 at 4:47 pm by timigustafson

While regular physical activity has long been regarded as an important component of healthy aging, its impact on mental health has remained less explored – until now. Several new studies on the role of exercise for the prevention of mental decline in older adults have been presented at this year’s Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) in Vancouver, Canada.

For these studies, researchers from the United States, Canada and Japan conducted 6 to 12 month clinical trials with focus on potential benefits of different types of exercising, including weight lifting, aerobics and balance-stretching training, for maintaining cognitive abilities at old age.

The results showed that even low-impact activities such as walking can help improve memory and other mental functions. What’s most striking is that the human brain seems to be able to grow and develop even late in life if sufficiently stimulated, not only by staying mentally active but physically as well.

Strength training, in particular, had positive effects on attention and memory and other higher brain functions. One study from the University of British Columbia, Canada, found that participants with higher levels of intellect, and perhaps education, reaped the most benefits.

The scientists involved in the respective studies agreed that their findings are preliminary at best at this point in time. “Very little is understood regarding the molecular processes that contribute to enhanced brain health with exercise, or the impact that greater brain volume has on cognitive function,” said Dr. Kirk Erickson of the University of Pittsburgh, who worked on one of the studies. But he also pointed to some immediate implications. “Our findings suggest that the aging brain remains modifiable, and that sedentary older adults can benefit from starting a moderate walking regimen,” he said.

Walking, not for the purpose of exercising but as a normal daily function, was the subject of another study presented at the conference. It found that older people’s slower gait could also be a symptom for mental decline. A reduced pace has always been considered as a natural part of aging. But the results of this study seem to indicate that being less swift and steady on one’s feet may be a sign that cognitive functions are suffering as well.

This is potentially a new perspective for health care professionals who treat older patients with mental health issues. “People who are focused on cognition largely never watch people move,” said Dr. Stephanie Studenski, a geriatrician at the University of Pittsburgh who did not take part in the study, in an interview with the New York Times (7/17/2012). “The tests are all done sitting down.”

Simply by observing how older people walk could provide doctors with an additional tool for diagnosing impairments such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Although the studies reported at the conference have yet to undergo peer reviews before being released for publication, they have already generated a considerable buzz in the medical community and beyond. The AAIC is the world’s largest of its kind and is sponsored by the Alzheimer’s Association, the world’s leading health organization in Alzheimer care, support and research.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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Exercising the brain as much as exercising the body to keep both fit and healthy has become the new mantra for the aging baby boomer generation. Scientists seem to agree. Studies show that people who were cognitively active throughout their lives are less likely to experience mental decline as they grow older.

Age-related dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease is the most feared health condition among older Americans today, second only to cancer. It is also one of the most significant health threats of the 21st century, according to a report by the Alzheimer’s Association and the Harvard School of Public Health that was first published at an international conference on the subject in Paris, France, last year.

The causes for Alzheimer’s are not yet fully understood and there are currently no effective treatments that can halt or reverse the progressively debilitating disease. Researchers have suggested that diet and exercise as well as mental stimulation may serve as preventive measures, but there is not enough scientific evidence that these have a significant impact.

There are a number of health conditions, however, believed to promote the development of dementia. One is inflammation of the brain caused by stress hormones such as cortisol, which is toxic to nerve cells in the brain and especially to those responsible for memory. Another contributing factor is cardiovascular disease because it can prevent the brain from receiving sufficient blood supply, thereby damaging it.

A more controversial suggestion is that education, or lack thereof, can make a difference in the likelihood of someone becoming demented later in life. Obviously, the notion that the well-educated have a better shot at staying mentally healthy while the unschooled run the risk of losing their minds is hard to accept because it sounds elitist and snobbish. That makes it difficult to raise the issue without provoking strong reactions. Still, we have to look at the evidence.

Neuroscientists say that the reason why education can help prevent or at least slow down an aging person’s cognitive decline is that during learning processes structural changes in the brain’s neural network take place as neurons connect with one another. This is only possible because the central nervous system is in constant dynamic flux, which enables it to respond and adapt to changing requirements.

The more learning experiences we undergo over the years, the more neural connections we develop in the brain. This does not only happen when we learn something brand new – like a foreign language or a computer program – but even when we do routine work or play our favorite games. The already established neural connections just multiply as we repeat similar mental processes. That is why most tasks become easier to master over time, which is what learning is. This process is called “neural redundancy,” meaning that many neural connections become redundant through repetition – but not obsolete because when some connections get damaged or degenerate, others take over and continue to function in their place. In other words, the more “redundant” connections we develop over a lifetime through constant learning, the less likely we will lose our skills and abilities as we age.

So the question arises whether we can avoid the decline of our mental capacities by, let’s say, learning Mandarin, reading philosophical books or mastering programming software? Not if you start late, scientists say. Being mentally active from early on and throughout life, not just when you reach old age, is what makes the difference, according to Dr. William Jagust, a professor of public health and neuroscience at the University of California at Berkeley. What you do at 40 or 50 is more important than what you take on at 75.

“Older people seem to have less efficient brains [than younger people] and have to work their brains harder,” said Dr. Jagust in an interview on the subject with the New York Times (3/8/2012). “People who stay cognitively active may be able to use their brains more efficiently,” he added.

Does it then still make sense to strive for mental fitness when you are already approaching retirement age or even later? Within limits, yes, Dr. Jagust agrees. Memory usually diminishes with age, even with people who do not have dementia, he said. It’s more about preserving the abilities you have than acquiring new ones, although both go hand in hand.

For those looking for learning opportunities in their later years, there is no shortage of programs offered by universities and colleges throughout the country. And these are not the only options. Educational travel programs are becoming extremely popular among retirees and the travel industry is more than happy to accommodate them.

They say, a good education is wasted on the young – well, it’s certainly not wasted on those who see lifelong learning as yet another fountain of youth. It may not be able to prevent mental decline in the end, but, in the meantime, it clearly does no harm.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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A Renewed Effort to Fight Alzheimer’s Disease

February 25th, 2012 at 5:12 pm by timigustafson

The Obama administration has tasked the science community with finding some effective treatments for Alzheimer’s disease by 2025. Experts consider the quest as ambitious. Still, health advocates applaud the government’s initiative, calling it an important step towards prevention, delay and, eventually, cure of the disorder.

Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most feared health conditions among Baby Boomers, second only to cancer, according to a survey conducted by the Alzheimer’s Association and the Harvard School of Public Health, which was first published at an international conference in Paris, France, last year. However, because of stigma and misinformation about Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, too many cases still remain undiagnosed. As a first step, the government has announced a major campaign to better educate both the medical community and the public at large about the disease.

“Alzheimer’s is the most significant social and health crisis of the 21st century,” said Dr. William Thies, the Chief Medical and Scientific Officer of the Alzheimer’s Association. “The overwhelming numbers of people whose lives will be altered by the disease, combined with the staggering economic burden on families and nations, make Alzheimer’s the defining disease of this generation. However, if governments act urgently to develop national research and care strategies with appropriate smart investments, the impact of Alzheimer’s and dementia can be managed,” he added.

Currently, over five million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementias, a toll that is expected to triple by 2050. The numbers may be much higher yet because as many as half of those affected have not been formally diagnosed. According to the American Health Assistance Foundation (AHAF), almost half a million new cases are added annually. Over 80,000 patients die from the disease every year, making Alzheimer’s the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S.

The annual costs for treatments and care of Alzheimer’s patients in the U.S. amounted approximately to $183 billion in 2011; they are expected to reach over one trillion dollars by 2050. The vast majority of people with Alzheimer’s receive home care by relatives, which is not covered by Medicare and most health insurance plans. For this reason, the new government initiative also aims at providing some form of relief for overwhelmed families who carry the burden of caring for loved ones, although the details hereto are still unclear.

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia. The disease worsens as it progresses and leads to death within four to seven years on average, although 20 years are not unheard of. It was first described in 1906 by the German psychiatrist and neuropathologist, Alois Alzheimer, and was named after him.

Early symptoms are often overlooked or misinterpreted as age- or stress-related phenomena such as forgetfulness or confusion. Since the disease affects each individual differently, predicting its course is difficult.

What causes Alzheimer’s in the first place is not yet fully understood. Currently available treatments can only help with its symptomatic effects but are not able to halt or reverse progression. Some have suggested that diet, exercise and mental stimulation can have a positive impact, however, there is no clinically proven evidence that such measures have a real effect in terms of prevention.

Still, most experts agree that healthy diet and lifestyle choices are the best weapons we currently have against all age-related diseases, including Alzheimer’s and dementia.

If you liked this article, you may also enjoy reading “The Right Food for Your Brain” and “Reducing Risk Factors for Alzheimer’s Disease.”

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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Signs of Memory Loss Found in Younger People

January 8th, 2012 at 3:25 pm by timigustafson

Loss of memory and other cognitive functions may start much earlier in life than previously thought, according to a clinical study from England. A modest decline of mental abilities such as reasoning and problem-solving was found in participants who were only in their forties.

For the study, researchers tested 7,000 men and women over a period of 10 years for memory, vocabulary and aural and visual comprehension. The results showed an average of 3.6 percent decline in reasoning skills in both sexes at the age of 45 to 49. 65 to 70 years old men showed on average a steeper decline than women of the same age group – 9.6 versus 7.4 percent.

Since the youngest participants were 45 years old when the study began, it is possible that the deterioration of brain functions may commence even earlier, according to Dr. Archana Singh-Manoux, the leader of the research, which was co-sponsored by the Center for Research in Epidemiology and Population in France and the University College London. The results were recently published in the “British Medical Journal.”

Previous studies on age-related decline of mental health have primarily focused on people in their sixties, seventies and beyond. By limiting ourselves to a narrower scope, we may not yet have gotten the entire picture, according to Dr. Singh-Manoux. A decline of mental capacity doesn’t suddenly happen at old age. That variability exists much earlier on, she says.

Researchers still need to learn more about the risk factors that lead to progressive cognitive impairment. There is strong evidence that Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia is closely related to heart disease, which is typically caused by weight problems, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

We probably underestimate how affected the broader population may be, says Dr. Singh-Manoux. The participants in this study were drawn from a relative homogeneous pool of office workers who were well educated and, for the most part, enjoyed a comfortable life and good health. This is not necessarily a representative profile at a time when so many suffer from obesity and other lifestyle-related health issues.

Although the causes of mental decline are not yet fully understood, experts recommend a number of measures that may not prevent but at least slow down the process. These include regular physical exercise, healthy nutrition, weight control, intellectual activity, avoidance of smoking and alcohol/drug abuse, stress reduction, sufficient amounts of sleep as well as social activities and supportive relationships.

A study conducted by the Mayo Clinic concluded that engaging in stimulating mental activities through reading, discussion, playing challenging games and other interactions can help decrease the risk of cognitive impairment significantly. This does not only apply to the elderly. To prevent even mild cognitive impairment (MCI), it is important to “exercise” the brain at any age.

“This study… demonstrates that aging does not need to be a passive process,” says Dr. Yonas Geda, a Mayo Clinic neuropsychiatrist and lead author of the study report. “By simply engaging in cognitive exercise, you can protect against future memory loss.”

To what degree we actually hold the key to our mental health remains to be seen. Preserving our physical health as best as we can is certainly a good strategy. Baby boomers have long been spending millions to save their sagging skin, fix their crow’s feet and plump their lips. As they reach old age, they finally are beginning to turn to brain boosters to fight memory loss, writes Virginia Anderson of WebMD in an article titled “Seven Brain Boosters to Prevent Memory Loss.” In fact, the process may begin much earlier in life and people need to pay attention before it’s too late.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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Reducing Risk Factors for Alzheimer’s Disease

December 14th, 2011 at 3:47 pm by timigustafson

At an international conference, sponsored by the Alzheimer’s Association last July in Paris, researchers discussed the growing global risk of Alzheimer’s disease. It is estimated that 36 million people currently suffer from the disease worldwide. Predictions are that those numbers will triple by the mid-century.

Although the causes of Alzheimer’s disease are not yet fully understood, it is becoming increasingly evident that diet and lifestyle choices play a more significant role than previously thought. Altogether seven lifestyle-related risk factors were identified based on a new mathematical model that was developed by a research team from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).

They are: Physical inactivity (21 percent), depression (15 percent), smoking (11 percent), hypertension (8 percent), obesity (7 percent), low education (7 percent) and diabetes (3 percent). These risk factors combined are believed to contribute to about five and a half million cases of Alzheimer’s in the United States alone.

Based on findings such as these, the Alzheimer’s Association has pledged to fund more studies to explore the importance of mental and physical health for risk reduction and ultimately prevention of the disease.

One area on which researchers have been able to shed some light is the connection between Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease. Autopsy studies have shown that 80 percent of Alzheimer’s patients suffered from cardiovascular disease or related conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease, high cholesterol and stroke.

“Taking care of your heart protects your brain,” said Dr. Jack C. de la Torre, a leading researcher in the field. He believes that reducing cardiovascular risk factors as early as possible is key in the prevention of memory loss and dementia in later years. There is general agreement among the experts that a healthy, balanced diet and regular exercise are the most effective measures people can take to protect their mental health.

A study report from Rush Medical College in Chicago concluded that a Mediterranean-style diet, which is predominantly vegetarian and low in fat, may have positive effects on the brain as well. For this project, 3,790 men and women ages 65 and older were periodically tested over an average of 15 years for memory and thinking skills. The participants who adhered most strictly to the Mediterranean diet scored significantly higher in the tests and were diagnosed as two years younger in “brain age” in comparison to their counterparts who didn’t follow a particular diet regimen. The findings still held after adjustments were made for other risk factors like age, sex, race, education, etc.

The report, which was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, concluded that, although the research “could not account for all the many factors that may contribute to cognitive decline in old age, […] a Mediterranean diet helps cut down on inflammatory substances in the body.” Inflammation has long been tied to heart disease and now possibly to Alzheimer’s disease as well.

Key ingredients of the Mediterranean diet, which derives its name from the typical food choices in countries around the Mediterranean Sea, include an abundance of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, olive oil and fish but only limited amounts of dairy products and meats.

The other equally important component of an anti-Alzheimer’s disease lifestyle is regular exercise. A study on the benefits of physical activity for mental health, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found that “regular exercise may be good for staying mentally sharp into old age.”

Particularly resistance training (weight lifting) was singled out as a highly effective form of exercise in a study from Vancouver, Canada. Participating seniors who engaged at least twice a week in weight lifting scored on average higher on mental acuity tests than those who did only aerobics.

Still, as other studies from the U.S. and Europe have shown, older men and women who follow a moderate to intense exercise regimen of any kind score regularly higher on cognitive tests than their sedentary contemporaries.

Alzheimer’s is a complex phenomenon. Understanding it enough to hope for better prevention, let alone a cure, requires much further studying, especially with regards to its genetic components. However, since lifestyle factors almost certainly play a major role, we all can start taking steps to do our part in preventing this terrible disease.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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New Study Confirms: Diabetes Increases the Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease

September 25th, 2011 at 4:48 pm by timigustafson

A new study has confirmed a long-held suspicion that people with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing age-related dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The latest findings are based on research in Japan that followed over 1,000 men and women, age 60 and older. 27 percent of the participants who were diabetic at the outset of the study eventually developed dementia, compared to 20 percent of those with normal blood sugar levels.

“We have clearly demonstrated that diabetes is a significant risk factor for the development of dementia, especially Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr. Yutaka Kiyohara, professor at the Kyushu University in Fukuoka in Japan and lead author of the study report.

The researchers began studying residents of the town of Hisayama in the early 1960s. The original focus was on cardiovascular disease. In the mid-1980s, they started to observe the development of dementia. Each participant was monitored for an average time period of 11 years. The results were recently published in the journal, “Neurology.”

“Diabetes is a common disorder, and the number of people with [the disease] has been growing in recent years all over the world. Controlling diabetes is now more important than ever,” said Dr. Kiyohara.

Indeed, diabetes is dramatically on the rise worldwide. 230 million now suffer from the disease, up from 30 million 20 years ago. According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), almost 26 million adults and children have been diagnosed in the United States alone. Another 80 million are considered pre-diabetic, meaning their blood sugar levels are routinely elevated, which can turn into a chronic condition over time if no countermeasures are taken.

The link between diabetes and dementia is not yet fully understood. Diabetes may lead to a particular type of dementia, called “vascular dementia,” in which damage to the blood vessels in the brain inhibits the flow of oxygen. There is also the possibility that the brain’s response to high levels of insulin in the body increases the risk of developing dementia. “There is some evidence that the brain is very sensitive to fuels like sugar and hormones like insulin,” said Dr. Joel Zonszein, professor of clinical medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “How exactly it happens is really speculation, we really don’t know,” he added.

To be sure, not everyone with diabetes develops dementia and not everyone who has dementia is diabetic. But still, studies have shown time and again that those with Type-2 diabetes are twice as likely to develop a type of dementia like Alzheimer’s disease. Type-2 diabetes patients often develop insulin resistance, a condition in which their cells can’t properly use insulin to absorb glucose in the bloodstream. To compensate, the pancreas releases additional insulin. The resulting higher insulin levels in the blood can lead to inflammation, which may cause, among other effects, damage to the brain cells. In addition, abnormalities in glucose metabolism and insulin levels in the brain itself may be harmful. Some researchers have therefore suggested that Alzheimer’s disease may actually be “Type-3 diabetes.” Obviously, more studies are needed to prove the existence of these connections.

Currently available measures to prevent or control diabetes may or may not lower the risk of dementia. Some diabetes drugs have been tested for the effectiveness in the treatment of Alzheimer’s. So far, none of these tests have shown more than modest improvement with regards to the symptoms of the disease. They have not stopped progression, which, of course, would be the ultimate goal.

Based on what we know today, preventing or managing diabetes is the best strategy to avoid further complications, one of which may be dementia. This will also reduce the risk of other potentially debilitating effects, including heart- and kidney disease and damage to the optical nerves and nerve endings in the extremities.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” ( http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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About timigustafson

Timi Gustafson, RD, LDN, FAND is a registered dietitian, health counselor, book author, syndicated newspaper columnist and blogger. She lectures on nutrition and healthy living to audiences worldwide. She is the founder and president of Solstice Publications LLC, a publishing company specializing in health and lifestyle education. Timi completed her Clinical Dietetic Internship at the University of California Medical Center, San Francisco. She is a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, an active member of the Washington State Dietetic Association, a member of the Diabetes Care and Education, Healthy Aging, Vegetarian Nutrition and the Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition practice groups. For more information, please visit http://www.timigustafson.com

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