Tracy Mitchell Griggs

Why Preventing Diabetes In Your 50s Is A Key To Preventing Dementia

Dementia is mistakenly considered an inevitable part of the biological aging process and a condition that only affects the elderly. But a recent one British study points to different risk factors by age — and that adults in their 50s should be aware that diabetes (and the resulting high blood pressure) can increase the risk of developing the brain disorder.

While diabetes can occur at any age, weight gain and inactivity are more likely to affect those over 50 — and each increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, and stroke.

Not only can diabetes increase the risk of heart disease and stroke (which can lead to damaged blood vessels in the brain), but too much insulin can affect the brain’s chemical balance. High blood sugar can also cause inflammation that can damage brain cells.

A 30 years of research conducted by Seattle-based Adult Changes in Thought (ACT) also implicated diabetes in the onset of dementia. The researchers identified and quantified multiple factors that affect brain aging, including hearing and vision loss, hypertension, alcohol use, obesity, depression and social isolation, physical inactivity, blood sugar levels and diabetes.

They found that higher glucose levels led to an 18% increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in adults without diabetes and a 40% increased risk for those with diabetes. The correlation between diabetes and dementia is clear: prevention should be the goal, so paying attention to the onset of symptoms is key.

The correlation between diabetes and dementia is clear: prevention should be the goal, so paying attention to the onset of symptoms is key.

Prediabetes is a warning sign

Long before a diabetes diagnosis, people first develop prediabetes — a condition in which blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes. This is the window where making lifestyle changes is the best method to avoid developing full-blown type 2 diabetes.

About 96 million American adults — more than one in three — have prediabetes, and 80% don’t know they may have developed the condition.

About 96 million American adults — more than one in three — have prediabetes, and 80% don’t know they may have developed the condition.

But what causes prediabetes? Insulin is a hormone made by your pancreas that acts as a key to getting blood sugar into the cells for use as energy. However, if you have prediabetes, your body cells do not respond normally to insulin. The pancreas then increases insulin production to make cells respond. Eventually, the pancreas can’t keep up and your blood sugar rises, paving the way for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.

You can have prediabetes for years with no symptoms; it often goes undetected until serious health conditions like type 2 diabetes are diagnosed. It’s important to talk to your doctor about scheduling blood sugar testing if you have any of the risk factors for prediabetes.

Prediabetes Risk Factors:

  1. Being overweight and exceeding the optimal BMI
  2. be 45 years or older
  3. Having a parent, brother or sister with type 2 diabetes
  4. Being physically active less than three times a week
  5. Ever had gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy) or gave birth to a baby weighing more than nine pounds
  6. Having Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome

Race and ethnicity are also a factor, as African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, American Indians, Pacific Islanders and some Asian Americans are at greater risk.

Common Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes

Do you think you have type 2 diabetes? The most common symptoms are usually:

  1. Unusual thirst or hunger
  2. Frequent urination
  3. Fatigue
  4. Blurry sight
  5. weight loss

Your doctor may order multiple tests to determine blood sugar levels, as recommended by the CDCincluding:

A1C test

The A1C test measures the average blood sugar level over the past two or three months. An A1C below 5.7% is normal, between 5.7 and 6.4% indicates you have prediabetes, and 6.5% or higher indicates you have diabetes.

Fasting blood sugar test

This measures the blood sugar level after an overnight fast (not eating). A fasting blood sugar level of 99 mg/dL or lower is normal, 100 to 125 mg/dL indicates you have prediabetes, and 126 mg/dL or higher indicates you have diabetes.

Glucose Screening Test

This measures blood sugar at the time of the test. After drinking a liquid containing glucose, blood is taken an hour later to check blood sugar levels. A normal result is 140 mg/dL or lower. If your level is above 140 mg/dL, you should take a glucose tolerance test.

Glucose Tolerance Test

This measures blood sugar before and after you drink a liquid containing glucose. You will fast (not eat) the night before the test and have blood drawn to determine the fasting blood sugar level. Then drink the liquid and have your blood sugar checked for an hour, two hours, and possibly three hours after that. After two hours, a blood sugar level of 140 mg/dL or lower is considered normal, 140 to 199 mg/dL indicates you have prediabetes, and 200 mg/dL or greater indicates you have diabetes.

Random Blood Sugar Test

This measures the blood sugar level at the time you are tested. You can take this test at any time and you don’t have to fast first. A blood sugar level of 200 mg/dL or higher indicates that you have diabetes.

Action Steps to Prevent Prediabetes and Type 2 Diabetes

Medical experts and health coaches all agree that the following steps are essential for diabetes prevention:

Get active – Recommended physical activity for an adult in their 50s is a minimum of 150 to 300 minutes per week.

eat better – A healthy diet is one of the best weapons to combat weight gain. Diets recommended for both heart disease and diabetes are foods that are low-glycemia and high in fiber and filled with colorful fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and lean proteins. The SPIRIT diet targets food groups that protect the brain from age-related problems such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Lose weightYour doctor can help you calculate optimal BMI and weight. When you lose fat and unnecessary pounds, the strain on the heart, lungs, blood vessels and skeleton is reduced.

While the risk of dementia increases as we age, medical experts say that age 50 is a great time to address disease prevention and chronic health conditions and take preventive measures now. Losing and maintaining an optimal weight, adopting good diet and sleep hygiene habits, and adopting a health-supportive lifestyle reduces the chances of developing both diabetes and heart disease and reduces the risk of developing dementia.

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