Caring Currents

The Plot Thickens: Another Clue in the Alzheimer's-Diabetes Mystery

Last updated:

May 21, 2008

Last month I looked at the link between Alzheimer's disease and diabetes , two diseases that are soaring at an alarming rate in the U.S. Recent research reveals people with type 2 diabetes have a 65 percent higher risk of developing Alzheimer's disease than people who don't have diabetes.

Why this is so remains a medical mystery. But a study just out may provide some answers to the connection between the two conditions. Researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies recently published a report that reveals that the blood vessels in the brains of young mice with diabetes are damaged by the interaction of high blood sugar, a characteristic typical of diabetes, and low levels of a compound called beta amyloid, a protein that clumps to form the senile plaques that riddle the brains of people with Alzheimer's.

What's more, this brain vessel damage occurred well before any obvious signs of Alzheimer's emerged, such as nerve cell death or amyloid deposits, the hallmark of the disease, could be detected in the mice's brains.

There's still more to tease out. Scientists speculate that while all humans have low levels of amyloid circulating in their blood, in people with diabetes there may be some kind of toxic relationship between this protein and high glucose levels that leads to problems with proper blood vessel formation in the brain.

Fascinating stuff. Further research is necessary to replicate these findings and assess their impact on future treatments for preventing Alzheimer's disease or the vascular damage associated with diabetes. For now: One more reminder why it pays to help your parents keep their blood sugar in check.

If your parent has diabetes, it’s also wise to be on the look out for early signs of Alzheimer’s . These include:

  • memory lapses
  • confusion over words
  • marked changes in moods or personality
  • trouble with abstract thinking such as balancing a checkbook
  • difficulty completing familiar activities, such as preparing meals
  • disorientation, like getting lost in public
  • misplacing items
  • poor or impaired judgment, for instance making odd choices regarding self-care such as dressing inappropriately for the weather

Have you noticed any of these behaviors? If you suspect your parent may have the condition, keep a record of your observations and encourage your parent to see her doctor.

Getting an early Alzheimer's diagnosis may help you delay the development of the disorder , learn communication techniques that can take the frustration out of your interactions with your parent, and give you both the chance to take advantage of your time together while your parent is still lucid.

Image by Flickr user Image Editor used under the Creative Commons license.