People with diabetes are more at risk of cognitive impairment leading to forgetfulness, inability to learn new things, and problems with attention. These issues can be mild and have little impact on someone’s ability to live independently, or can be more extreme, leading to dementia.
Diabetes can cause cognitive problems, including memory issues. With proper management of the disease, you can prevent memory issues that come from blood sugar spikes and crashes.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes involves having higher-than-normal blood glucose levels (hyperglycemia) where your body can’t produce or respond to insulin. Your pancreas produces insulin to regulate blood sugar, but because of a reduced insulin production or resistance to insulin, blood sugar levels stay high.
Type 1 Diabetes
In type 1 diabetes, your immune system attacks insulin-producing cells in your pancreas. You need the insulin to help glucose molecules enter the cells, and once it does, your body uses it to create energy. Those with type 1 diabetes don’t produce enough insulin on their own, which leads to a higher-than-normal blood sugar level.
Type 2 Diabetes
In type 2 diabetes, the most common type, your body can’t use the insulin it’s producing properly. The resistance causes the pancreas to produce more insulin which increases the hormone level in the bloodstream. Too much insulin can negatively affect your brain, causing damage and cognitive issues.
How Does Diabetes Affect the Brain?
Your brain is sensitive to glucose levels, and both high and low blood sugar can damage the brain. Those with diabetes have an increased chance of developing dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other neurocognitive disorders than those with normal glucose tolerance. Not only will memory be impacted, but executive function and psychomotor speed can be affected first.
Your brain needs constant energy, and it needs half of all the sugar energy you produce to function properly. When blood sugar levels fall outside the normal range, it can damage the nerves and blood vessels in your brain, leading to problems with mood, hormone balancing, learning, and memory.
Having too many episodes of high blood sugar, or hyperglycemia, can cause stress on the brain. The negative effects of hyperglycemia don’t appear right away but build up over time.
High blood sugar damages the blood vessels in the brain that carry oxygen-rich blood. If the brain doesn’t get enough oxygenated blood, cells can die, which can cause memory issues and lead to vascular dementia.
Low blood sugar can also be dangerous if not treated. When your brain doesn’t get enough sugar, the brain doesn’t have energy. Symptoms of low blood sugar tend to be immediate and may include dizziness, irritability, difficulty talking, and can even lead to loss of consciousness.
When you have diabetes, monitoring your blood sugar so you can recognize a problem before it turns serous is key. Avoiding either extreme can keep your brain healthy and give you more control over your body.
How Can Diabetes Affect Memory
Memory loss and mild cognitive impairment are connected to type 2 diabetes. Diabetes can increase the risk of developing long-term cognitive problems if blood glucose levels aren’t well controlled. Over a number of years, high blood glucose levels can damage nerves in your brain, increasing your risk for dementia.
Diabetes can also cause cerebrovascular disease, vascular disease in the brain, and the damage can lead to cognitive problems, including memory.
Other Causes of Memory Loss
Memory problems can stem from elsewhere, such as:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Vitamin B1 deficiency
- The use of certain medications
If your diabetes is under control and you still have memory problems, talk to a medical professional to test for other potential causes.
How to Manage Diabetes and Brain Health
Your brain and diabetes are linked, and there are things you can do to take care of your brain health and diabetes, such as:
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Keep your blood sugar within the normal range
- Exercise regularly
- Take medications as prescribed
- Don’t smoke
- See your doctor regularly
Having diabetes doesn’t mean you’re unhealthy. You can still maintain a vibrant life by monitoring your blood sugar levels and eating healthy, drinking water, exercising, and sleeping well.
Find Support in Assisted Living
At All American Assisted Living at Raynham, the Optimal Living program offers tailor-made plans for diabetes or other conditions to keep your loved one healthy in assisted living. Schedule a tour of the community to explore our services and amenities.