Women with type 2 diabetes have a 20 per cent higher risk of dementia due to damaged blood vessels, according to new research.
The study, which used data from nearly 2.5 million participants, found that the form of all forms of dementia to be the same for both men and women. It is only the specific type caused by damaged keywordblood vessels that is more likely in women – which fits with the higher risk of stroke and heart disease seen in women with type 2 diabetes.
“It’s plausible that the same mechanisms that drive the greater excess risk of heart disease and stroke in women with diabetes … are also causing the excess risk of vascular dementia,” said study author Rachel Huxley, head of the School of Public Health at Curtin University in Perth, Australia.
“We still don’t fully understand why women with diabetes are at excess risk of vascular disease and it may be related to sex hormones. It may also be that blood glucose levels in women with diabetes are much more … difficult to control than in men with diabetes.”
Although the researchers only found a correlative link between the two conditions – not a causal one – they point out that the risk can be reduced through lifestyle changes. The findings should not cause undue anxiety.
Why does diabetes increase the risk of this kind of dementia in women?
Huxley also pointed out that it is not known why type 2 diabetes increases the risk of dementia due to damaged blood vessels.
“It’s a good question but one to which we don’t have a definitive answer,” said Huxley. “Some studies suggest that vessel damage in the brain caused by diabetes is an important factor.”
Dr. James Elliso, the Swank Foundation endowed chair in memory care and geriatrics at Christiana Care health System, said:
“[W]hy [this kind of dementia] should be a more serious risk for women that men isn’t readily apparent,” he said. “The message to clinicians is to consider screening aggressively for diabetes and prediabetes and to be very attentive to women who are in higher risk groups, like women with gestational diabetes.”
Huxley pointed out that if people are concerned about their risk of diabetes-related dementia, there are a number of lifestyle changes they can make to reduce their risk.
“Individuals at risk of developing diabetes and those with overt diabetes can do many things to reduce their risk of dementia, such as quitting smoking, increasing the level of physical activity, eating a healthy diet, minimising alcohol intake and even losing a few pounds,” said Huxley.
The findings are published in Diabetes Care.
Diabetes and dementia
There are strong links between type 2 diabetes and dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s disease. Although it isn’t known exactly why type 2 diabetes increases the risk of dementia, research suggests it has something to do with the damage caused by type 2 diabetes on the blood vessels that feed the brain. Without the blood from these blood vessels, memory and cognitive functions decline.
Research also suggests that Alzheimers disease is caused by insulin resistance in the brain. Because of this, it has been proposed that Alzheimer’s disease be renamed type 3 diabetes.

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