Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer's is a form of dementia
Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia

Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia which has been found to be closely linked with type 2 diabetes.

Alzheimer’s is characterised by confusion and loss of memory. This is generally diagnosed later in life. Currently Alzheimer’s cannot be cured but it can be treated to help slow progression of the illness.

What is Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer’s disease is form of dementia which is thought to affect about 1 in 15 people over the age of 65.

The disease is brought on by damage to nerves and cells in the brain, with the early signs of recognisable by confusion, speech difficulties and forgetfulness.

The name, Alzheimer’s, comes from the German psychiatrist, Alois Alzheimer, who first noted the disease.

How are type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s linked?

The cause of Alzheimer’s in itself is not well enough understood at present, and the link between Alzheimer’s and diabetes therefore, is also not clear.

However, the two conditions seem to be linked and people who are over 60 with type 2 diabetes are thought to be twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s than those without diabetes.

One reason why Alzheimer’s may be more prevalent in people with diabetes is that diabetes can damage the small blood vessels which feed cells and nerves.

Damage to these blood vessels can therefore lead to damage to the cells and nerves they feed. If brain cells are damaged in this way, Alzheimer’s can result.

Similarities between type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s

There are a number of similarities which type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s share.

  • Symptoms come on gradually
  • There is currently no cure as such
  • The likelihood of getting these conditions increases with age
  • Genetic factors can increase the risks

Symptoms and signs of Alzheimer’s?

Early symptoms of Alzheimer’s include:

  • Confusion
  • Speech and reading difficulties
  • Forgetfulness
  • Irritability

Alzheimer’s is a progressive illness meaning the condition is expected to gradually worsen over time.

As Alzheimer’s develops the symptoms will become stronger and may include delusion, repetitive behaviour, increased mood swings, loss of long term memory and incontinence.

In very advanced stages, people may lose the ability to speak in sentences and not be capable of simple tasks such as taking a meal.

How is Alzheimer’s diagnosed?

Similar to type 2 diabetes, Alzheimers can often be missed early on as the disease tends to come on gradually and symptoms may be confused with other illnesses (including thyroid problems and depression) or be dismissed and simply put down to getting old.

Unlike diabetes, however, there are no easy diagnostic tests that can be performed and one or more appointments with a clinical psychologist, psychiatrist or neurologist may be needed to confirm a diagnosis.

Which treatment therapies are used to treat Alzheimer’s?

A number of medications exist for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, including:

  • Donepezil (brand name Aricept)
  • Rivastigmine (brand name Exelon)
  • Galantamine (brand name Reminyl)
  • Memantine (brand name Ebixa)

Other treatments may include programmes to stimulate the brain (cognitive stimulation programmes) in ways including problem solving, language and memory exercises.

Currently research is being undertaken to look at whether diabetes drugs may themselves be able to help treat Alzheimer’s, however, this research is still in very early stages.

How can I reduce my risk of Alzheimer’s?

Some of the preventative measures are similar to the lifestyle guidelines given to people with diabetes, namely:

In addition, it’s recommended to keep your mind active and engaged by maintaining a social life, reading, writing, playing games or taking part in a course.

Reading, writing and being social can all be done on our very own Diabetes Forum

Keeping in good control of diabetes is also likely to reduce the extent of risk for Alzheimer’s.

Will I be able to drive if I have Alzheimer’s?

People with Alzheimer’s are legally obliged to inform the DVLA of their diagnosis. The DVLA will respond by sending a questionnaire which will need to be filled in and returned. To be eligible to drive, you must allow the DVLA to contact your GP or specialist regarding your suitability to drive.