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Alzheimer’s Numbers Grow New Evidence Of Link To Diabetes


PHOENIX – A Barrow Neurological Institute researcher warns that diabetes may be contributing to the increasing numbers of Americans afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

Many studies have found that people with diabetes, especially Type 2 diabetes, have a lower level of cognitive function and are at a higher risk of dementia,” said Elliott Mufson, PhD, director of the Alzheimer's Disease Research Laboratory at Barrow. “I would hesitate to give odds on getting Alzheimer’s disease but the risk is greatly increased.”

Dr. Mufson, a professor in Barrow’s Department of Neurobiology, has spent his career studying the causes of Alzheimer’s disease, which afflicts more than 5 million Americans, according to the National Institute on Aging.

Alzheimer’s ranks as the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S., but it is becoming deadlier among those older than 65. In that group, the percentage of people who die of Alzheimer’s is projected to rise from 32 percent in 2010 to 43 percent by 2050, according to the March 2014 issue of Alzheimer’s and Dementia.

Dr. Mufson’s comments come as two recent studies concluded that blood-sugar levels can affect the brain, providing new evidence of the link between diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. In one study, researchers at Washington University in St. Louis discovered that raising blood sugar to abnormally high levels corresponded with increased production in the brain of amyloid beta, a protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease. In a separate study, University of Pittsburgh researchers found that middle-aged people with Type 1 diabetes had significantly more brain lesions, and slower cognitive function, than those who did not have the disease.

“Diabetes is a risk factor for the development of Alzheimer’s disease similar to age,” Dr. Mufson said. “According to the American Diabetes Association, 27 percent of people aged 65 and older in the U.S. have diabetes and about 50 percent have prediabetes, making it a significant player in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. One study found that women without diabetes were almost twice as likely to have good cognitive function than women with diabetes.”

Some 29 million Americans, or about 1 in 11, have diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Another 86 million people – one in three – have prediabetes, according to CDC statistics. - BARROW

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