New research suggests obesity and prediabetes or diabetes may make us more likely to have memory problems and develop Alzheimer’s. According to the American Diabetes Association, more than half of adults over the age of 65 have prediabetes. Prediabetes and health problems, such as having too much insulin in the body (insulin resistance), are mostly caused by obesity, little to no exercise, and loss of lean muscle mass that occurs with aging.
What is Alzheimer’s disease?
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, the decline in mental abilities interfering with everyday life, and is more likely the older we get. Signs of Alzheimer’s can appear decades before the disease manifests. Most people begin to notice regular to frequent memory problems, such as forgetting conversations or how to get to and from familiar places.
When memory problems become clinically significant, but do not impact daily life activities like household chores or working, a person is diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Most people with MCI eventually develop Alzheimer’s in three to five years, although some individuals never do. A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s requires not only constant memory problems worse than MCI, but significant impairment in daily life activities and at least one more cognition problem (i.e., speech, planning or reasoning, purposeful movement).
What can I do?
Studies increasingly suggest that prevention is best. If you are middle-aged or older, obese or severely overweight, ask your doctor. Suggest a waist circumference measurement to estimate your body fat. Have your blood sugar and insulin levels checked. If you have prediabetes, consider a weight loss program, moderate exercise for 30 minutes a day at least 3 days a week, or medication to lower blood sugar and insulin. If you have diabetes, it is critical to get it under control with the plan of care your doctor suggests.
If you are concerned you have memory problems, schedule an appointment with a neurologist or psychiatrist. Memory and thinking assessments can determine if your memory is impaired. Follow-up visits help track whether or not your memory remains the same or declines.
Source: Auriel A. Willette, MS, PhD, Food Science and Human Nutrition, Iowa State University