The hardest part about keeping an eye on signs of dementia is that the very symptoms it causes can make it harder to notice them at all. But by looking after your overall health and being aware of certain things that may put you at risk, you may be able to catch any early red flags. And according to a new study, there's one health condition you'll want to avoid, because it raises your risk of developing dementia later in life six-fold. Read on to see what makes you more likely to suffer from cognitive decline as you age.
Having type 1 diabetes makes you six times more likely to develop dementia later in life.
If you've been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, you may want to take extra care to manage it: A new study published in the journal Neurology has found that those with the condition are six times more likely to develop dementia. Specifically, researchers said that those who had ever been brought to the emergency room or spent time in the hospital for major glycemic events triggered by diabetes were more prone to the neurological condition.
"For people with diabetes, both severely high and low blood sugar levels are emergencies and both extremes can largely be avoided," Rachel Whitmer, PhD, the study's lead author and professor at University of California Davis School of Medicine, said in a statement. "However, when they do occur, they can lead to coma, increased hospitalization, and even death."
Having been hospitalized for both high and low blood sugar events makes you six times more likely to develop dementia.
Researchers looked at 2,821 people with an average age of 56 who were diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, making a note of which patients had suffered either a low blood sugar event (hypoglycemia) or a high blood sugar event (hyperglycemia), or both. The team then followed up with the patients for an average of seven years to determine how many had been diagnosed with dementia, with 153 cases counted by the end of the study.
Results showed that after adjusting for age, sex, and ethnicity, patients who experienced a major hypoglycemic event saw their risk of developing dementia increase by 75 percent, while those who experienced a hyperglycemic saw their risk double. However, those who had experienced both were six times more likely to be diagnosed with dementia than those who had not.
"Our findings suggest exposure to severe glycemic events may have long-term consequences on brain health and should be considered additional motivation for people with diabetes to avoid severe glycemic events throughout their lifetime," Whitmer concluded in the statement.
Diabetes can affect blood flow to the brain, making it a risk factor for dementia.
As the Mayo Clinic explains, type 1 diabetes is a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin, the hormone needed to allow sugar to enter cells and produce energy. Unlike type 2 diabetes, which is often linked with obesity and an unhealthy diet, the condition is more often linked to genetics or specific viruses and typically develops in childhood or early adolescence.
Because of the damage it can cause to blood vessels, "diabetes is considered a risk factor for vascular dementia," the Mayo Clinic says. "This type of dementia occurs due to brain damage that is often caused by reduced or blocked blood flow to your brain."
Preventative care is important for lessening the risk of dementia caused by diabetes.
The new study's authors point out that one of its major limitations was requiring a dementia diagnosis from a doctor, meaning that the actual number of those who developed the condition is likely higher than the results suggest. Nevertheless, they concluded that the association between major glycemic incidents shows how important it is for anyone who's diabetic to manage their condition properly.
"People with type 1 diabetes are living longer than before, which may place them at risk of conditions such as dementia," Whitmer said. "If we can potentially decrease their risk of dementia by controlling their blood sugar levels, that could have beneficial effects for individuals and public health overall."