Studies link Alzheimer's to diabetes

July 17, 2006|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Several new studies suggest that diabetes increases the risk of Alzheimer's disease, adding to a store of evidence that links the disorders. The studies involve only Type 2 diabetes, the most common kind, which is usually related to obesity.

The connection raises the prospect that increases in diabetes, a major concern in the United States and worldwide, may worsen the rising toll from Alzheimer's. The findings also add dementia to the cloud of threats that hang over people with diabetes. Others include heart disease, strokes, kidney failure, blindness and amputations.

But some of the studies also hint that measures to prevent or control diabetes may lower the dementia risk and that certain diabetes drugs should be tested to find whether they can help Alzheimer's patients, even those without diabetes.

The findings were presented yesterday by the Alzheimer's Association at a conference in Madrid, Spain, attended by 5,000 researchers from around the world.

Alzheimer's affects one in 10 people over age 65 and nearly half of people over 85. About 4.5 million Americans have it, and taking care of them costs $100 billion a year, according to the association. The number of patients is expected to grow, possibly reaching 11.3 million to 16 million by 2050, the association said

But those projections do not include a possible increase from diabetes.

"Alzheimer's is going to swamp the health care system," said Dr. John C. Morris, a neurology professor at Washington University in St. Louis and an adviser to the Alzheimer's Association.

In the past decade, several large studies have found that, compared with healthy people of the same age and sex, those with Type 2 diabetes are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's. The reason is not known, but researchers initially suspected that cardiovascular problems caused by diabetes might contribute to dementia by blocking blood flow to the brain or causing strokes.

One of the new studies found that even people who had borderline diabetes were 70 percent more likely than those with normal blood sugar to develop Alzheimer's. The study, by researchers from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and the Stockholm Gerontology Research Center, included 1,173 people 75 and older.

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