I am not alone when I say that one my biggest fears as I age is developing dementia. When talking to my friends, they all same the same thing. We can confront the increasing risks of cancers, heart disease and pretty much everything, but the idea that makes us most panic stricken is the fear of losing our memory, losing our ability to process and think, and ultimately losing our independence.
What’s scares us the most is losing our mind.
This article in The Atlantic references a study published last month in the Journal
Diabetologia that begins to give us some real clues about the risk factors for cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s. This astounding research followed over 5000 participants for 10 years and found that those with elevated blood sugars had a faster rate of cognitive decline than those with normal blood sugar.
“Currently, dementia is not curable, which makes it very important to study risk factors,” states the lead author Wuxiang Xie. This lack of cure for Alzheimer’s means that we instead have to prevent it.
According to Melissa Schilling, a professor at New York University, Type 2 diabetics are about twice as likely to get Alzheimer’s and diabetics who are treated with insulin are more likely to get Alzheimer’s than those who aren’t. This research proposes that elevated insulin levels raises the risk of Alzheimer’s. It's not just the sugar but insulin plays a role as well.
The CDC in 2017 reported that, based on their fasting glucose or A1C level, an estimated 33.9% of U.S. adults aged 18 years or older (84.1 million people) had prediabetes in 2015. Nearly half (48.3%) of adults aged 65 years or older had prediabetes. These are not diabetics; these people have blood sugars that are elevated, and most of the time may not know it.
This elevated blood sugar level is a process that starts decades before we see or are aware of the cognitive issues manifest themselves. It is silently doing damage to our brains and so much more.
We have become accustomed to talking to our healthcare provider about our cholesterol when we go in for our annual physical or get blood work. We all know someone on cholesterol medication. Although everyone is talking about their cholesterol, it now turns out that another blood test, our blood sugar level, may be far more important in determining our future health and especially our risk of cognitive issues.
Do you know your blood sugar level? Many of us don’t but perhaps we should.
We don’t have to wait until we are in the diabetic range to start doing something. We can take action now. Knowledge is power. With knowledge, we have the ability to make choices, the power to make informed decisions and the power to take action. The New York Times has published a simple and practical guide to reducing your sugar consumption.
We now are beginning to understand the risk factors for cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s. We no longer have to live in fear and feel powerless; but rather, we can make choices every day that will affect our future in a positive way. It is up to each of us to act on that knowledge and put it into practice each day.
Polly Halpern is a Nurse Practitioner with a practice in Seattle focusing on reversing and prevention of chronic disease including diabetes.