On the surface, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease appear to be entirely independent conditions. After all, one occurs when the body cannot efficiently convert glucose into energy anymore, and the other stems from cognitive decline.
Experts are now realizing, however, that the two illnesses might have more in common than previously believed. Several studies are emerging which propose a possible link between insulin resistance, associated with diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease.
WHAT IS DIABETES?
Diabetes mellitus is an ailment in which a person’s body has difficulty utilizing sugar. It generally falls into one of three categories:
- Type 1 diabetes: an autoimmune condition, usually setting in during childhood, in which the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin, causing blood sugar levels to become abnormally high
- Type 2 diabetes: a disease state resulting from insulin resistance. This phenomenon happens when blood levels of the hormone remain chronically elevated due to cells no longer being able to accept and receive it
- Gestational diabetes: a temporary condition in which blood sugar becomes too high during pregnancy and usually reverses after delivery
Elevated blood sugars contribute to inflammation, which further causes sugars to rise in a vicious cycle. Type 1 and gestational diabetics must inject insulin to keep their glucose in the normal range. Some type 2 sufferers can manage their condition with an adequate diet, exercise, and stress management regime.
SYMPTOMS OF DIABETES
- Increased thirst
- Frequent urination
- Bedwetting in children who didn’t do so previously
- Extreme hunger
- Unintentional weight loss
- Irritability and other changes in mood
- Blurred vision
These signs can develop rapidly and almost always occur in childhood.
Many type 2 diabetes symptoms overlap with those of type 1, apart from a select few. These include:
Slow healing of cuts and wounds. This occurs because blood circulation is impaired due to high levels of serum glucose, damaging the body’s nerves and blood vessels. (1.)
Tingling, numbness, or pain in the hands and feet. Known as neuropathy, this condition is one of the most common complications resulting from diabetes. In addition, poor circulation makes this situation progressively worse without treatment.
Patches of dark skin around the neck, armpits, and/or groin. These soft, velvety areas are called acanthosis nigricans and are usually associated with very severe cases of insulin resistance.
Yeast infections. Yeast feed on excess sugar in the body, a process which can lead to disease. This uncomfortable condition tends to occur in warm, moist areas of the skin such as the mouth, genitalia, and armpits. An affected person may experience itching, burning, redness, and soreness.
WHAT IS ALZHEIMER’S?
A type of dementia accounting for 60-80% of diagnosed cases, Alzheimer’s is an umbrella term encompassing loss of memory and other cognitive abilities. Most people with the condition are over 65 years of age. However, more than 200,000 Americans have younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that steadily gets worse. Symptoms are subtle at first. However, a late-stage patient typically loses the ability to carry on a conversation. The average prognosis after diagnosis is 6-8 years of life, and Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death in America. (2.)
While there is no current cure for Alzheimer’s, treatments are available to manage symptoms and give those suffering an improved quality of life. Experts are continually searching for answers as to how the disease can be treated, delayed, and even prevented.
SYMPTOMS OF ALZHEIMER’S
Memory loss is the most common and well-known sign of Alzheimer’s. But the disease presents with many other symptoms–some of which are more difficult to pinpoint unless actively being monitored (3.) These include:
Changes in planning or solving problems
Examples of this may consist of difficulty concentrating and trouble following recipes or keeping track of bills.
Lessened ability to complete familiar tasks
These might take place at work, home, or anywhere else the person frequents.
Losing track of time or place
Some people with Alzheimer’s have difficulty comprehending the past and future; they rather can only understand the present moment. They might also forget where they are and/or how they arrived there.
New or worsening vision problems should always be taken seriously in the elderly, as they can be a sign of Alzheimer’s. The person might have trouble reading signs and judging distance, both of which can render driving dangerous.
Difficulty speaking or writing
Those who have Alzheimer’s may struggle to find the correct word, often referring to things by the wrong name. They might also repeat themselves or stop mid-conversation in an attempt to gather their thoughts.
Alzheimer’s patients frequently put things in strange places, usually to hide them from people they have accused of stealing. It isn’t uncommon for the person to forget where they placed the items and have difficulty relocating them.
Poor decision-making skills
The elderly in general, are more susceptible to scams and telemarketers, but especially those with Alzheimer’s. In addition to giving away large sums of money, people with Alzheimer’s might also express decreased hygiene and pay less attention to taking care of themselves.
Due to memory loss and the general stress of so many internal changes, a person with Alzheimer’s might begin stepping away from hobbies and/or social activities.
Mood and personality changes
Personality changes and mood swings vary from person to person. However, it isn’t uncommon for people living with Alzheimer’s to become confused, suspicious, angry, afraid, or depressed. The condition might worsen, especially when they experience a disruption in routine.
Alzheimer’s is a complex, life-altering disease, and early detection is crucial for the patient to experiment with treatments that could significantly improve their quality of life. Given the emerging research about the disease’s origins, it is even more imperative for patients to begin treatment as soon as they receive the diagnosis.
Specific lifestyle changes might have a more significant impact on the advancement of Alzheimer’s than previously believed. What was once an essential death sentence may not have such a grim prognosis after all.
WHY ALZHEIMER’S MIGHT ACTUALLY BE TYPE 3 DIABETES
Emerging research is suggesting insulin resistance may be a causative factor in the formation of Alzheimer’s. This revolutionary finding has led some people to call Alzheimer’s “diabetes in the brain.” (4.)
While this assertion is largely oversimplified, it isn’t entirely untrue. Over time, unmanaged diabetes can damage blood vessels throughout the entire body – including the brain. Individuals with type 2 diabetes are at a higher risk of this phenomenon because diagnosis typically comes well after disease onset.
Diabetes alters brain chemistry, which can also make a person more likely to develop Alzheimer’s. Additionally, elevated blood sugar levels lead to whole-body inflammation, which is known to damage brain cells. Because of this, diabetes can be a precursor to vascular dementia: a type of dementia caused by insufficient blood flow to the brain. Vascular dementia is a condition in and of itself but has the potential to develop into Alzheimer’s. (5.)