Dementia in seniors raises mortality risk from diabetes, heart disease, and smoking. Dementia is the progressive loss of cognitive function and memory, rapidly becoming a leading cause of death in the U.S. Heart disease and diabetes both affect blood vessels and circulation, and – along with dementia – share many common risk factors.
A research published in Journal of the American Geriatrics Society reviewed studies that included 235,000 dementia patients. The researchers found that dementia patients with diabetes have a higher risk of death, compared to those without either condition. Furthermore, dementia patients who are smokers or suffering from coronary heart disease also have an increased death risk, compared to nonsmokers or those without heart disease. Lastly, men were found to have worsened outcomes from dementia, compared to women.
The research also found that having high blood pressure, being overweight, and having high cholesterol – all risk factors for poor heart health and heart-related complications – did not increase the risk of death in dementia patients.
The researchers suggest the findings offer insight into how high blood pressure and cholesterol should be treated in dementia patients, as they don’t seem to have an effect on mortality. Therefore, treatment for either condition should be based on the patient’s preference and whether or not it will improve quality of life.
Living with dementia and diabetes
Diabetes is a disease that can be managed, but diabetes management may be difficult for someone with dementia, as they become increasingly forgetful over time and their cognitive function continues to decline. For example, diabetes increases the need to urinate, but if a person forgets where the bathroom is, it can increase the risk of accidents.
Some symptoms of diabetes can also negatively affect dementia. For example, hypoglycemia – a condition when blood sugar becomes too low – can worsen forgetfulness, increase the risk of falls, and cause distress.
Lastly, an increase in forgetfulness can result in patients forgetting to take medications or, what’s even worse, forgetting they already had the medication and taking more. This is why it is so important that a health care provider or a family member cares for the patient in order to ensure that treatment is being followed as accurately as possible.
It’s crucial that the patient is offered more assistance as dementia continues to progress in order to avoid complications associated with diabetes that increase the risk of mortality.
Here are some tips to better manage diabetes in dementia:
- If you’re forgetting to take your medication, speak with your doctor to minimize the amount you need to take.
- If swallowing pills is difficult, ask for a liquid or powdered version.
- Reduce amount of insulin injections with the approval of your doctor, or get a device that automatically controls insulin.
- Have your doctor change your treatment to avoid episodes of hypoglycemia.
- Speak to your dietician if you are losing weight or having trouble swallowing food.
- Learn to understand the symptoms and how to describe hypoglycemia episodes, as it may get difficult when it is actually occurring.
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