People with diabetes are at an increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease because of the effects of high blood sugar. For heaven’s sake—is there anything that blood sugar doesn’t mess with?
Studies have shown that rising blood sugar levels correlate with rising rates of cognitive decline and dementia, and people with diabetes have about double the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease as those without.
Dementia is a syndrome that causes several groups of symptoms. Dementia affects cognitive tasks such as thinking, communicating, and remembering; functional skills such as eating and walking; and mood and behavior. Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia and is a brain disease that gets worse over time.
Cognitive decline refers to declining cognition and brain processing, and it does interfere with daily functions. The terms, cognitive decline, dementia, and Alzheimer’s, are related but not interchangeable. Diabetes is a risk factor for all three.
While there’s no way to guarantee that a person won’t someday face dementia or decline, there are ways to reduce risk, and many habits that reduce risk also improve overall quality of life. Here are 7 ways people with diabetes can reduce dementia and Alzheimer’s risk:
1. Manage Your Blood Sugar
We know what you’re thinking: “Tell me something I don’t know.” Fair enough. But just in case you had any doubt, remember that studies have shown that good blood sugar management can help mitigate cognitive decline in later years.
2. Protect Your Head
There’s a link between head trauma and Alzheimer’s risk, so do your best to avoid head trauma. What’s that? You don’t deliberately seek out head trauma? That’s excellent! Keep it up by wearing a seatbelt, protecting your head when playing sports, wearing a helmet when riding a bike, and removing trip hazards from your home.
3. Eat a healthy diet
Keep your brain healthy by making sure your food provides enough vitamin D, folate, and B6 and B12 vitamins. Focusing on a variety of fruits and vegetables should make this easier! Also include whole grains and healthy fats like the ones in fish, nuts, and olive oil. Oh, and of course, limit sugar and saturated fats.
Exercise may help reduce risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s by increasing oxygen and blood flow to the brain’s cells. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. Five 30-minute exercise sessions will get you there, but you can break it up however you’d like!
5. Stay Social
Staying socially connected may help reduce risk of dementia, though researches don’t quite know why. It could be because social stimulation strengthens connections between the brain’s nerve cells.
Isolation and depression increase risk for cognitive decline, but staying connected helps fight depression. Do your best to stay keep in touch with friends and even form new connections when possible. Relationships help your brain by boosting your mood and helping you think outside yourself. Bonus points if your friends double as exercise partners!
6. Exercise Your Brain
The “use it or lose it” principle applies when it comes to your mental edge. Help keep your brain sharp and engaged by giving yourself challenges that make you think. Try doing a puzzle, creating a piece of art, and playing strategic games like bridge or chess. You can also build social connections and stay sharp by taking a class at a community center or community college.
Just like your body, your brain needs to keep working to stay strong!
7. Care For Your Heart
The same things you do to care for your heart can positively impact your cognitive health. Lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, losing weight if needed, reducing stress, and quitting smoking can help keep your heart and your head healthy. Oh, and that heart-healthy diet will also help!
Remember, there is no one strategy that guarantee’s a person won’t experience cognitive decline or some form of dementia. Research has shown correlations with the above practices and improved brain health, but it’s difficult to absolutely prove cause and effect. Absolute proof would require a blind study where one group was assigned social interaction, for example, and another was assigned to social isolation. There are ethical concerns with such a study.
The above strategies are currently our best tools against dementia and cognitive decline, and they also fight against other diseases and health risks. So take good care of yourself, because you’re definitely worth it!Whizzco