Does Diabetes Double Your Alzheimer’s Risk?
(BlackDoctor.org) – The African American population, due to high risk of diabetes and hypertension, are at a greater risk of developing alzheimer’s.
People with diabetes are at increased risk of having a heart attack or stroke at an early age, but that’s not the only worry. Diabetes appears to dramatically increase a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia later in life.
In a new study, which included more than 1,000 men and women over age 60, researchers found that people with diabetes were twice as likely as the other study participants to develop Alzheimer’s disease within 15 years. They were also 1.75 times more likely to develop dementia of any kind.
“It’s really important for the public to understand that diabetes is a significant risk factor for all of these types of dementia,” says Rachel Whitmer, Ph.D., an epidemiologist in the research division of Kaiser Permanente Northern California, a nonprofit health-care organization based in Oakland, Calif.
Whitmer, who studies risk factors for Alzheimer’s but wasn’t involved in the new research, stresses that many questions remain about the link between diabetes and dementia. The new study was “well done” and provides “really good evidence that people with diabetes are at greater risk,” she says, “but we really need to look at other studies to find out why.”
Diabetes could contribute to dementia in several ways, which researchers are still sorting out. Insulin resistance, which causes high blood sugar and in some cases leads to type 2 diabetes, may interfere with the body’s ability to break down a protein (amyloid) that forms brain plaques that have been linked to Alzheimer’s. High blood sugar (glucose) also produces certain oxygen-containing molecules that can damage cells, in a process known as oxidative stress.
In addition, high blood sugar—along with high cholesterol—plays a role in the hardening and narrowing of arteries in the brain. This condition, known as atherosclerosis, can bring about vascular dementia, which occurs when artery blockages (including strokes) kill brain tissue.
“Having high glucose is a stressor to the nervous system and to the blood vessels,” says David Geldmacher, M.D., a professor of neurology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “The emerging information on Alzheimer’s disease and glucose shows us that we do need to remain vigilant on blood sugar levels as we get older.”
Studies dating back to the late 1990s have suggested that people with diabetes are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia, but the research has been marred by inconsistent definitions of both diabetes and dementia.
The authors of the new study, led by Yutaka Kiyohara, M.D., an environmental medicine researcher at Kyushu University, in Fukuoka, sought to address this weakness by using the gold standard of diabetes diagnosis, an oral glucose tolerance test. This involves giving a person a sugar-loaded drink after they have fasted for at least 12 hours, and then measuring how much glucose remains in their blood two hours later.
At the beginning of the study, the tests showed that 15% of the participants had full-fledged diabetes, while 23% had prediabetes, also known as impaired glucose tolerance.
The participants were all dementia-free when the tests were done, but over the next 15 years 23% received a diagnosis of dementia. Slightly less than half of those cases were deemed to be Alzheimer’s disease, with the remainder roughly split between vascular dementia and dementia due to other causes. (The diagnoses were confirmed with brain scans of living patients and brain autopsies in deceased patients.)
Both diabetes and prediabetes were associated with an increased risk of dementia diagnosis, although the association was weaker for prediabetes. And the link persisted even after the researchers took into account several factors associated with both diabetes and dementia risk, such as age, sex, blood pressure, and body mass index.
New CDC Survey: 1 In 10 Americans Are Taking Antidepressants
You go in for a regular checkup. Your doctor asks you about certain symptoms, such as difficulty sleeping and/or feeling a little more down than usual. Next thing you know, you’re walking out of your doctor’s office with a prescription for an antidepressant.
“Often patients don’t come in saying, ‘I’m depressed,’ they come in with an incredible amount of different signs — headaches, trouble sleeping, for instance — but a deeper consultation will reveal that they are,” says Levy, an assistant professor of Medicine Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Now Garay sees Levy once every few weeks to check in, manage her symptoms, and discuss any issues, Levy says. According to Garay, the medication has “helped tremendously.”
Levy is one of many family doctors that are taking on the role of therapist with their patients.
According to new survey data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 10 Americans older than 12 are now taking antidepressants — a fourfold increase in the prevalence of antidepressant use since the late 1980s.
While antidepressant use is on the rise, it’s not always mental health professionals that are writing the scripts: less than one third of patients on antidepressants reported seeing a mental health professional within the past year.
The report, published Wednesday, draws on a survey of over 12,000 Americans over the age of 12. Women Garay’s age were the largest consumers of antidepressants: 23 percent of all women ages 40 to 59 reported taking antidepressants.
While the idea of primary doctor handing out antidepressants without a therapist’s consultation may seem alarming, many psychiatrists felt that screening for and treating depression in your doctor’s office was a necessary expansion of a PCP’s duties.
“The reality is that there are not enough mental health care providers around to treat all who need it,” says Dr. Gary Small, a psychiatrist and director of the UCLA Center on Aging. “Part of what we do as psychiatrists is teach doctors how to diagnose and treat depression so that a lot of depression can be handled in primary care.”
“It’s a required part of training in our specialty [to treat depression],” says Dr. Lee Green, professor of family medicine at the University of Michigan. “We refer patients with the most complex or treatment-resistant depression to psychiatrists for medication management, but that is only a minority of people with depression. Most patients can, and should, get their antidepressant prescription from their family doctor,” he says.
This doesn’t mean that seeing a mental health care worker isn’t necessary as well, however, Green says: “The concern I have with the low number of people seeing mental health professionals is that they’re not getting the psychotherapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, that we know helps with depression. Personally, I don’t believe anyone should be treated with medication alone for depression.”
Dr. Sudeepta Varma, a psychiatrist at NYU Langone Medical Center and member of the American Psychiatric Association’s Public Affairs Committee for New York County, was also worried that patients might not be getting treated “optimally” with the best dosage of their meds if they never see a psychiatrist.
“People often come in to me having been prescribed antidepressants from their doctor and they’re on the lowest dose, wondering why it isn’t working for them,” she says. “Primary doctors should really work in consultation with a psychiatrist.”
Overall, doctors and mental health care professionals weren’t alarmed by the rising number of antidepressant prescriptions being written – to the contrary, some questioned whether more patients should be on medication.
The survey captured how many patients are on antidepressants, not necessarily how many patients are being treated for depression with antidepressants. Because antidepressants are also prescribed for anxiety, neurological pain, fibromyalgia, sleep problems, and menopausal hot flashes, some of those reporting being on antidepressants may have been medicated for those reasons, not for depression, says Dr. John Messmer, associate professor of Family and Community Medicine at Penn State College of Medicine.
“I think it’s a good thing that one in ten people in the U.S. are on antidepressants,” says Dr. Varma at NYU. “It’s really hard to convince people to be on medication — it’s not something that people do lightly. I think the fact that more people are on medication means that more people are becoming aware of the signs of depression and that there is less stigma about seeking help,” she says.