I recently went to a continuing education program presented by Pam Baird, BBS, BBA and Candy Hart RN, BS at the Kentucky Statewide Diabetes Symposium titled “Diabetes and Brain Health.” How diabetes affects the brain is a topic that we are hearing more about. Since diabetes is high blood sugar and obviously there is blood in our brain, it makes sense that diabetes affects the brain. They discussed how blood vessel damage occurs from hypertension, cholesterol, and diabetes. This vessel damage is the biggest risk factor for Alzheimer's.
Insulin also plays a key role in brain function. From the HBO special, “The Alzheimer's Project,” there is an article explaining the research from Dr. Suzanne Craft, professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Washington School of Medicine. She is studying how insulin resistance causes lower insulin levels in the brain resulting in memory problems. They are working on how to restore insulin levels to the brain but not cause higher insulin levels in the rest of the body. Since higher insulin levels in the body would increase insulin resistance and beta-amyloid levels (a protein that contributes to Alzheimer’s).
Besides keeping blood sugars levels in check, they outlined other lifestyle things everyone can do aid in brain health:
-eat less overall
-make sure you are getting omega 3s on a daily basis
-participate in debates to keep your quick thinking skills sharp
-eat poly-phenols from grape juice and red wine
-deep breathing for relaxation
-exercise peripheral vision by practicing staring straight ahead for a few minutes, not looking right or left
-draw or paint
-sleep 7-8 hours a night
Have you discussed the relationship between cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s risk with your diabetes patients? Have you seen firsthand how uncontrolled diabetes increases the risk of Alzheimer's with your patients? Comment below on creative ways to teach the connection between diabetes and brain function.