Last Updated: February 1, 2024

Understanding Alzheimer’s and Diabetes

Alzheimer's and Diabetes written on a chalk board

Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes are two health conditions that almost all seniors and their families have heard of and worry about. And with good reason.

These two conditions can have a significant negative impact on seniors as they age.

In the current year of 2023, an estimated 6.7 million Americans over 65 are living with Alzheimer’s disease. Of this group, 73% are over 75.

And for Florida seniors, the 2023 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report from Alzheimer’s Association states that 580,000 Floridians had the disease in 2020 and estimated an increase to 720,000 Floridians by 2025.

Shockingly, about 1 in 9 US seniors over 65 have Alzheimer’s, two-thirds of which are women.

And about 33% of seniors over 65 have diabetes. Seniors with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing diabetes-related complications like heart disease, kidney failure, and hypoglycemia than younger people with diabetes.

If you or your senior loved one are deciding whether to age in place at home or choose an assisted living community, these issues must be considered to ensure proper care and treatment.

In the past several years, researchers have found more and more connections between diabetes and Alzheimer’s, along with other cognitive diseases and conditions. One study shows up to 81% of seniors with Alzheimer’s have Type 2 diabetes. And while scientists are still researching more links between Alzheimer’s and diabetes, it is well-accepted that the brain uses enormous amounts of glucose.

Unfortunately, the medical community has no clear consensus on the exact relationship. In this blog post, we will explore the emerging links between Alzheimer’s and diabetes and the impact they can have on seniors and their families.

What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Man pressing against forehead

Alzheimer’s is a type of brain disease that damages nerve cells in the brain called neurons. Neurons are essential for everything we do, like moving, walking, talking, and more.

Typically with Alzheimer’s disease, the first neurons damaged are those in the parts of the brain responsible for memory, language, and thinking. And so the first symptoms are usually memory, language, and thinking problems.

Unfortunately, the damage to the neurons eventually extends to parts of the brain that control bodily functions, like walking and swallowing. Ultimately, the person becomes bed-bound and requires full-time, round-the-clock care.

Sadly, Alzheimer’s disease is fatal. Studies show that seniors over 65 who are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s dementia, on average, survive four to eight years, with some living up to 20 years.

Incredibly, it is believed that the damage starts 20 years before the symptoms are noticeable. This is why early diagnosis and treatment for Alzheimer’s are so critical. And understanding the factors that may lead to Alzheimer’s is crucial in living a lifestyle to reduce the odds of getting the disease.

The exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease is not fully understood. Researchers believe genetics, lifestyle factors, and other health conditions play a role in its development. And this includes diabetes.

Alzheimer’s disease significantly impacts the senior’s lifespan and quality of life. Like many memory and cognitive conditions, it also takes a tremendous emotional, physical, and financial toll on the family.

Understanding the Types of Diabetes

Man testing insulin levels

Diabetes is a chronic health condition that affects millions of people. About 1 in 10 Americans has diabetes, more than 37.3 million people. And about 1 in 5 don’t know they have it.

More than 1 in 3 adult Americans has prediabetes, or about 96 million people. And of that group, 8 out of 10 are unaware of their condition.

Diabetes is typically characterized by high blood sugar levels from the body’s inability to convert sugar properly. Currently, there are three recognized types of diabetes: Type 1, Type 2, and Gestational Diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes (T1DM) is when the body’s endocrine part of the pancreas does not produce enough insulin. This typically develops in childhood or adolescence and requires insulin therapy and lifestyle modifications to manage.

Type 2 diabetes (T2DM) is the most common type of diabetes. It occurs when the body develops insulin resistance, leading to high blood sugar levels. It is often associated with unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as poor diet and lack of exercise. It can be managed with lifestyle modifications and medication.

Gestational diabetes (GDM) is a type of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy and can be harmful to both the mother and baby. It usually goes away after giving birth, but women with GDM are at increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes later in life.

Is there Type 3 Diabetes?

Recently, some researchers have proposed a new type of diabetes known as Type 3 diabetes. This refers to the hypothesis that Alzheimer’s disease may be a form of diabetes that affects the brain. While this theory is still being debated, it highlights the potential link between diabetes and cognitive health.

Links Between Diabetes and Alzheimer’s

Scientists researching

Diabetes and Alzheimer’s are two prevalent diseases among seniors that affect their quality of life. There has been an established link between type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.

Insulin resistance, a hallmark of type 2 diabetes, has been suggested to trigger Alzheimer’s by affecting the brain’s ability to use glucose.

Some researchers have even proposed that Alzheimer’s disease may be a form of diabetes that affects the brain, hence referred to as “Type 3 Diabetes.” According to this theory, insulin resistance may also play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

However, this theory is still a topic of debate and has not yet been widely accepted within the scientific community.

Insulin is essential for brain function, and the brain’s ability to use glucose is impaired in Alzheimer’s disease. Moreover, insulin resistance is believed to increase inflammation, which is also a characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease.

Therefore, some experts suggest that lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise, and managing blood sugar levels may help reduce the risk of both diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.

Further research is needed to fully understand the potential link between insulin resistance, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. However, this emerging theory highlights the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including eating a balanced diet, staying active, and managing blood sugar levels, to reduce the risk of developing both diseases.

Is Alzheimer’s Type 3 Diabetes?

Woman speaking with doctor

As discussed in the previous section, some researchers have suggested that Alzheimer’s disease may be a form of diabetes that affects the brain, also known as Type 3 Diabetes. Below we list some common arguments on both sides.

Arguments for Alzheimer’s Disease as Type 3 Diabetes:

Insulin Resistance: Insulin resistance has been found in the brains of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, indicating that the brain cannot properly utilize glucose, similar to the insulin resistance seen in type 2 diabetes.

Shared Risk Factors: Several risk factors for type 2 diabetes, such as obesity, physical inactivity, and a high-fat diet, have also been linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Similar Pathology: Both Alzheimer’s disease and type 2 diabetes are characterized by the accumulation of amyloid-beta proteins, which are thought to impair insulin signaling in the brain, leading to cognitive decline.

Brain Insulin Resistance: Brain insulin resistance is thought to contribute to the cognitive impairment seen in Alzheimer’s disease, suggesting that Alzheimer’s disease may be a form of diabetes that affects the brain.

Potential for Treatment: If Alzheimer’s disease is classified as type 3 diabetes, it may be possible to use drugs that are already used to treat type 2 diabetes to treat Alzheimer’s disease as well.

Arguments against Alzheimer’s Disease as Type 3 Diabetes:

Different Underlying Mechanisms: While there are some similarities between Alzheimer’s disease and type 2 diabetes, they are caused by different underlying mechanisms. Alzheimer’s disease is primarily neurodegenerative, while type 2 diabetes is caused by insulin resistance.

Lack of Definitive Evidence: While some evidence supports the idea that Alzheimer’s disease is a form of diabetes, the evidence is inconclusive.

Heterogeneous Nature of Alzheimer’s Disease: Alzheimer’s disease is complex and heterogeneous with multiple contributing factors. It is unlikely that a single mechanism, such as insulin resistance, can fully explain the development of the disease.

Different Treatment Approaches: While there may be some overlap between the treatments for type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease, the two diseases require different treatment approaches.

Possible Oversimplification: Classifying Alzheimer’s disease as type 3 diabetes may be an oversimplification of the disease and may not fully capture the complexity of its underlying mechanisms.

Overall, the theory of Alzheimer’s disease as type 3 diabetes is now a continuing and growing debate in the scientific community. While more research is needed to fully understand the potential link between insulin resistance, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease, it is clear that managing risk factors for both diseases through lifestyle changes and proper medical care can help improve overall health and reduce the risk of cognitive decline.

Diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and Senior Health

Seniors gathering around table

While the debate continues, it appears there is a potential link between diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. This has significant implications for senior health, as both conditions are prevalent among older adults.

Diabetes affects nearly 25% of Americans age 65 and older. The risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease also increases with age, with most cases occurring in people 65 and older.

Research suggests that individuals with type 2 diabetes may have a 50-65% higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease than those without diabetes. Additionally, individuals with diabetes may experience more rapid cognitive decline as they age.

The potential link between diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease underscores the importance of managing blood sugar levels as a part of senior health care. This may include following a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and taking prescribed medications.

And since Alzheimer’s may not show symptoms for 20 years, the earlier someone adopts a healthier lifestyle, the better the outcome. As always, check with your doctor before making any substantial changes.

Research has shown that lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise may also help reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. A healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, has been linked to a reduced risk of cognitive decline and may help protect against Alzheimer’s disease.

Exercise has also been shown to have cognitive benefits, with regular physical activity linked to a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Exercise may also help improve blood sugar control, which is especially important for individuals with diabetes.

Overall, the potential link between diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease highlights the importance of maintaining good senior health through healthy lifestyle choices and regular medical care.

Reducing the Risk of Alzheimer’s and Diabetes

Infographic

Research has shown that taking steps to reduce the risk of diabetes may also help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Here are some tips for reducing the risk of both conditions:

  • Eat a healthy diet: A diet that is low in saturated and trans fats and high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is believed to help reduce the risk of both diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Exercise regularly: Regular physical activity can help improve insulin sensitivity and reduce the risk of both diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Maintain a healthy weight: Being overweight or obese is a risk factor for both diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. Maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise can help reduce the risk of both conditions.
  • Manage blood sugar levels: If you have diabetes, working with your doctor to manage your blood sugar levels is essential. Keeping your blood sugar levels in a healthy range may also help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Get enough sleep: Poor sleep quality or lack of sleep has been linked to an increased risk of diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. Sleeping enough each night can help reduce the risk of both conditions.
  • Keep your brain active: Engaging in mentally stimulating activities, such as reading, doing puzzles, or learning a new skill, may help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

By taking these steps to reduce the risk of diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease, seniors can help protect their brain health and maintain their independence as they age. It’s never too late to start making positive changes to your lifestyle, so talk to your doctor about ways to reduce your risk of these conditions.

Key Takeaways:

Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes are two chronic health conditions significantly impacting seniors’ health and well-being. And as seniors age with either or both conditions, their families face emotional, physical, and financial challenges.

The concept of Alzheimer’s disease as a form of type 3 diabetes is still a topic of debate, but the evidence suggests that managing blood sugar levels and lifestyle factors like exercise and a healthy diet can help reduce the risk of both diseases.

It’s important for seniors to be aware of the signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes and to work with their doctors and healthcare professionals to manage their health and well-being. By staying informed and taking proactive steps to manage their health, seniors can better manage their quality of life as they age.

Concerned About Your Senior’s Diabetes or Alzheimer’s?

Man consulting elderly couple

Navigating your senior loved one’s best long-term care options is difficult when diabetes, Alzheimer’s, or other chronic diseases are involved. Deciding how long aging at home is practical or looking for assisted living communities with qualified memory care is challenging and confusing.

At Florida Senior Consulting, we understand the challenges of aging. We are here to help seniors and their families navigate those complexities.

And helping seniors with these types of challenges is a particular passion of ours. For example, in addition to his other certifications, our CEO, Scott Miller, is a Certified Dementia Practitioner, established a Parkinson’s Center for Excellence, and led independent living, assisted living, memory care, and skilled nursing communities with great success.

If you are facing these challenges, let us help.

We are a Florida-based company with expert knowledge of the Florida senior market. While senior options can seem confusing, this is all we do.

Florida Senior Consulting helps seniors decide their next best steps and the easiest way to afford the transition.

We have certified staff, professional nurse advocates, and decades of experience in the field.

Senior living should be on your terms, and the choice should always be yours.

Call us, and we will answer all your questions and help you decide what is best for you or your senior loved one.

For peace of mind, call us at (800) 969-7176 or visit us at FloridaSeniorConsulting.com.

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