What if I told you there is a threat to your mental health that is three times more common than Alzheimer’s disease? Yes, about five hundred thousand people each year will be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, but 1.5 million adults will be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Scientists have reported that type 2 diabetes has a measurably negative impact on cognitive function as adults with the condition age. While these stats are not positive by any means, the critical difference is that type 2 diabetes can be controlled or avoided!
Type 2 diabetes is different from type 1 diabetes in that those with type 1 are insulin-dependent. That is, they need to take injections every day to keep their blood sugar levels in check. There are medications for type 2 diabetes also, and you have seen many of them advertised on television, and these generally are oral medications. But unlike type 1 diabetes, type 2 can be managed by diet and exercise. Researchers in Australia reported on a study that tracked 705 older adults for more than four years. They found that those who were type 2 diabetics had a decline in their verbal fluency during this four year time frame, but those without diabetes actually showed a small cognitive improvement. They also measured the brains of these subjects using imaging and found that both groups showed a similar modest decrease in brain size which is a normal part of aging. It was the diabetics that showed measureable cognitive decline, most notably a decreased ability in “word-finding.”
The researchers add the usual caveat that their findings do not demonstrate cause and effect, but the fact remains that those with type 2 diabetes just had lower scores on their word-finding ability. The real deal here is that unlike Alzheimer’s or other neurological conditions, type 2 diabetes can be avoided or at least minimized by some simple steps. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that if you or a loved one are moving through and beyond “middle adult years,” follow these basic recommendations to best prevent type 2 diabetes and preserve your brain power:
- Lose some of that extra weight as obesity is linked to type 2 diabetes.
- Cut back on the intake of “bad cholesterol.”
- Cut way back on carbohydrates like sugar, cereals, alcohol.
- Keep blood pressure under control.
- Get up and exercise daily.
Since type 2 diabetes can happen at almost any age, this may be one of those medical recommendations that everyone can do together. And this also is one of those medical conditions that can be managed by the individuals with the condition.
Charlotte Bishop is an Aging Life Care Advisor, Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. She also is the co-author of How Do I Know You? A Caregiver’s Lifesaver for Dealing with Dementia.