Public not aware of link between diabetes and dementia

Medics say lack of awareness about both illnesses among public is alarming

A lack of exercise, smoking and excessive drinking are risk factors for dementia and type II diabetes.  Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

A lack of exercise, smoking and excessive drinking are risk factors for dementia and type II diabetes. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

 

People with type II diabetes are between two and three times more likely to get dementia, a new report suggests.

Researchers are now examining whether diabetes causes dementia or whether it the illnesses are simply associated, as both conditions can have a similar root cause, for example obesity.

The research also suggests two thirds of the population is unaware of the link between the two conditions.

Dr Catherine Dolan, a psychiatrist who works with elderly people, said the lack of awareness in the public about both illnesses was alarming given the ageing nature of the population and the rise in obesity.

Dr Doland was the lead author in the study of awareness among the Irish public of diabetes and the potential link with dementia.

She said nearly half the population (46 per cent) believed dementia could not be prevented.

She pointed out dementia was partially a lifestyle-related disease and obesity, lack of exercise, smoking and excessive drinking were risk factors both for dementia and type II diabetes.

The study, which was conducted by Trinity College Dublin between December 2016 and February 2017, examined data from over 500 respondents evenly divided between people with diabetes and members of the general population.

Dr Dolan concluded there was a general awareness about the impact of diabetes on organs such as the kidneys and eyes but not on the brain.

She described the findings as “particularly worrying” given that the number of people with diabetes in Ireland is set to increase over the next 20 years mainly due to obesity, sedentary and inactive lifestyles and the ageing population.

A report by the Institute of Public Health in 2010 entitled ‘Making Chronic Conditions Count’ predicted a 62 per cent increase in the number of people with diabetes in Ireland by 2020.

“By taking measures to reduce our risk of diabetes, leading a healthy lifestyle by maintaining a healthy weight, staying active, reducing your alcohol intake and not smoking, and managing conditions such as high blood pressure and cholesterol we are also potentially helping to reduce our risk of developing dementia,” she said.

“This is particularly important for people aged between 40 and 65 years as evidence increasingly suggests that the changes in the brain which eventually lead to symptoms in those individuals that develop dementia begin in mid-life.”

She was speaking ahead of World Diabetes Day on Tuesday.

The Dementia: Understand Together initiative is HSE in partnership with The Alzheimer Society of Ireland and Genio.

It includes a newly launched website www.understandtogether.ie which provides information for people who are interested in finding out about dementia.