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Can Diabetes Cause Memory Loss?

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A caregiver checking a senior with diabetes blood sugar level

Health & Memory

Most people know physical health can affect mood and mental health, but it can also impact brain function. Our brain is, after all, an organ. Healthy physical habits and experiences can have positive effects on our brains. Unfortunately, the reservation is also true, as diseases can influence brain health, including memory.

Diabetes is a disease affecting 1 in 10 Americans. Additionally, more than 1 in 3 Americans have prediabetes, which can develop into diabetes without treatment. Diabetes can negatively impact health, including brain health. But can diabetes cause memory loss?

What Is Memory Loss?

Memory loss is a sign of cognitive impairment. When most people think of memory loss, they think of forgetfulness. Forging that one actor’s name or the lyrics to part of a song is common. Yet, memory loss can also limit a person’s ability to learn new material. 

Mild memory loss can be momentarily annoying, but severe memory loss can interfere with crucial cognitive functions. It may cause difficulty starting, completing, or finishing complex tasks. Whether it’s forgetting personal hygiene or neglecting household chores, memory loss can affect the quality of life. Significant memory loss can be a symptom of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

Some signs indicating memory loss or mild cognitive impairment include:

  • Asking the same questions over and over again
  • Getting lost in familiar places
  • Frequently losing things
  • Difficulty following recipes or directions
  • Increasing confusion about time, people, and places
  • Difficulty with personal care (hygiene, eating, or safety)
  • ]Trouble remembering words or phrases (compared to age group)
  • Forgetting to attend important events or appointments

Diabetes Types

There are 2 forms of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. 

Type 1 diabetes can occur at any age. The condition interferes with the body’s ability to produce insulin. Insulin is part of how our cells receive energy. It’s a hormone that transfers blood sugar (glucose) from the bloodstream into cells. 

Without adequate insulin production, the body’s cells don’t receive energy, and blood sugar levels rise. As a result, people with type 1 diabetes use insulin therapy and other treatments to manage their condition.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. Although the body can produce insulin, it doesn’t use insulin properly. Some people can manage blood sugar levels with a healthy diet and exercise. Others may need additional treatment, including medication or insulin.

Diabetes symptoms typically include:

  • Increased thirst
  • Dry mouth
  • Feeling weak or tired
  • Blurred vision
  • Numb or tingling hands/feet
  • Slow-healing wounds
  • Frequent infections
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Frequent urination

Additionally, diabetes can lead to multiple health complications, including heart disease, chronic kidney disease, nerve damage, oral issues, vision loss, hearing loss, and mental health problems.

A senior woman with diabetes checking her blood sugar level with a blood glucose test on her finger tip

How Diabetes Affects Memory 

Diabetes affects whole-body health, including the brain. The link to brain health is how diabetes can cause memory loss. Both diabetes type 1 and 2 significantly increase the risk of cognitive decline:

  • People with type 1 diabetes are 93% more likely to develop dementia
  • People with type 2 diabetes have an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease

In addition to the risk of developing dementia, diabetes also has connections to memory loss through hippocampus size and vascular disease.

Hippocampus Size

Researchers have found a connection between diabetes and hippocampus size. The hippocampus is a brain region involved with memory formation, organization, and storage. It also connects memories with emotions and sensations. 

People diagnosed with diabetes, even for less than 10 years, had deficits in memory function related to the hippocampus. They had smaller hippocampus sizes compared to people without diabetes. 

High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure (hypertension) is a common symptom of diabetes. As diabetes damages arteries, it can slow or block blood flow, causing vascular disease. One type of vascular disease caused by diabetes is cerebrovascular disease (a vascular disease in the brain). 

Cerebrovascular disease can lead to multiple problems with cognitive functions, including memory. It can also contribute to the development of vascular dementia

Reducing Risks

Older adults with diabetes have higher chances of developing dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and vascular dementia than those with normal glucose tolerance. But healthy behaviors can help prevent cognitive decline. Notably, addressing risk factors, including blood sugar levels, can prevent or delay up to 40% of dementia cases.

Regular appointments with a doctor or healthcare team are crucial for patients with diabetes and problems with memory. Also, introducing or maintaining health practices can help prevent conditions contributing to memory loss. For seniors in assisted living or senior living homes, access to various experiences and services can encourage healthy habits.

Support for Memory Loss

Fox Trail is a community for seniors living enriched, meaningful lives. Regardless of age or needs, our services and experiences are personalized to encourage connection and engagement. Residents with health conditions or memory loss receive the care they need to enjoy fuller lives, such as our memory support. Contact us or schedule a visit at Fox Trail to learn more about how our community prioritizes resident comfort, safety, and happiness.

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Ryan Donahue

Written by Ryan Donahue, Regional Vice President

More Articles By Ryan Donahue, Regional Vice President
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