Research has found that having diabetes increases your risk of dementia and may even cause it to develop earlier. There may be some things you can do to lower this risk, though, according to a new study.
Research recently published in Neurology, the journal of the American Academy of Neurology, examined the benefits of seven healthy habits for those with diabetes. The team found that those who did few or none of them were significantly more likely to develop dementia, while each additional habit that one did was linked with a reduced risk.
Dr. Yingli Lu, study author from Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine in China, says, “Our research shows that for people with type 2 diabetes, the risk of dementia may be greatly reduced by living a healthier lifestyle. Doctors and other medical professionals who treat people with diabetes should consider recommending lifestyle changes to their patients. Such changes may not only improve overall health, but also contribute to prevention or delayed onset of dementia in people with diabetes.”
The seven lifestyle habits the team examined were no current smoking; moderate alcohol consumption of no more than one drink per day for women and two a day for men; getting at least 2.5 hours of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise a week; seven to nine hours of sleep each night; a healthy diet with more produce, whole grains, and fish and fewer refined grains and meats; less sedentary activity; and frequent social contact.
Using data from the UK Biobank health database, the team examined the impact of these lifestyle choices on nearly 168,000 people aged 60 and older with and without diabetes who did not have dementia at the start of the study. These participants had completed health questionnaires, provided physical measurements, and given blood samples. To gauge their adherence to healthy lifestyle habits, participants were given a point for each of the seven habits that they followed.
After an average follow-up period of 12 years, 4,351 of the participants had developed dementia. The risk of dementia was higher in those with diabetes than those without it, even with healthier habits. The team found that those who adhered to two or fewer of the healthy habits were four times more likely to develop dementia than those without diabetes who followed all seven. Meanwhile, those with diabetes who followed all seven were 74% more likely to develop dementia than those without diabetes who followed all the habits.
However, among those with diabetes, healthy habits were found to help a lot. After confounding factors had been considered, participants with diabetes who adhered to all seven healthy lifestyle choices were 54% less likely to develop dementia than those who followed two or fewer. Each additional habit was also associated with an 11% further reduction in risk. These findings were not impacted by medications people were on or how well they controlled their blood sugar.
The team says their study should encourage lifestyle changes in diabetes patients to help prevent or delay dementia.
What is it about diabetes that leads to an increased dementia risk? Other researchers suggest diabetes may cause issues with blood flow and metabolism in the brain, due to insulin resistance, problems with blood vessels, and frequent changes in blood sugar levels over several years.