Type 3 Diabetes: Does Diabetes Cause Memory Loss?

Type 3 diabetes is a term that some diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease experts use to describe the strong link between type 2 diabetes and the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

does diabetes cause memory loss

There is a strong link between Type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer's disease. Even if a person with Type 2 diabetes doesn't develop Alzheimer's, it is likely they will experience memory problems.

© filadendron | Getty Images

Type 2 diabetes is diabetes that you are not born with. It develops over time. Type 2 diabetes starts with a condition called prediabetes. When you have prediabetes, your blood sugar is high, but not high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes. With type 2 diabetes, your body becomes resistant to insulin. You need insulin to get sugar into your cells for energy. Over 50 million Americans have prediabetes, and most of these people will develop type 2 diabetes within 10 years.

Studies show that type 2 diabetes increases your risk for Alzheimer’s disease by about 60 percent. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. About 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease and that number is increasing as people live longer. One in eight people will have Alzheimer’s disease after age 65. By age 85, 50 percent of people have Alzheimer’s disease.

What Are the Warning Signs of Type 3 Diabetes?

Even without developing Alzheimer’s disease, people with type 2 diabetes may have more memory problems as they get older than people without diabetes. They may also have problems with executive brain functions. These are high-level brain functions like organizing, planning, and decision making.

Having Type 2 diabetes doubles your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Signs of Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias include memory loss, loss of ability to learn, loss of executive functions, changes in personality, loss of ability to communicate, and a gradual loss of the ability to do every day activities of life.

How Does Type 2 Diabetes Become Type 3 Diabetes?

Men and women with type 2 diabetes have double the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease than people without diabetes. Women with type 2 diabetes have a higher risk than men of developing another type of dementia called vascular dementia. This dementia is caused by decreased blood supply to the brain. If you have type 2 diabetes, your risk of type 3 diabetes increases even more if you have high blood pressure, a family history of dementia in a close relative (parent or sibling), obesity, or sleep apnea.

Although the exact way type 2 diabetes causes type 3 diabetes is not known. These are some possible ways:

  • High blood sugar may cause inflammation in the brain that increases the risk of proteins called amyloid plaques and tao tangles. These proteins cause nerve cell damage and Alzheimer’s disease.
  • High blood sugar damages blood vessels and decreases blood flow to the brain. This may cause the death of brain cells and Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Insulin resistance decreases the ability of brain cells to use insulin for energy. This may lead to nerve cell damage and Alzheimer’s disease.

Can You Reduce Your Risk of Type 3 Diabetes?

Yes, you can. About half your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease is preventable with lifestyle changes. These are the lifestyle changes:

  • Get regular exercise. That means about 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise every day or at least on 5 days out of the week, along with some type of muscle-strengthening exercise twice per week.
  • Eat a healthy diet. That includes avoiding fats and red meats, eating lots of fruits and vegetables, avoiding added sugar and processed foods, and increasing whole grains.
  • Get to a healthy weight and stay there. Having a lot of weight around your belly is a risk for both diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Work with your diabetes care provider to get your blood sugar under control.
  • Exercise your mind as well as your body. Mental exercises that challenge your brain help to reduce your risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Work with your health care providers to manage high blood pressure and your cholesterol.

The best way to prevent type 3 diabetes is to avoid type 2 diabetes. The good news is that lifestyle changes to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease also reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes. Ask your health care provider about your risk for type 2 and type 3 diabetes and what you can do to lower your risk.

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Chris Iliades, MD

Dr. Chris Iliades is board-certified in Ear, Nose and Throat and Head and Neck Surgery from the American Board of Otolaryngology and Head and Neck Surgery. He holds a medical … Read More

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