Diabetes and dementia are both common in older adults and often occur together. Dementia can complicate diabetes management, particularly as it progresses and causes more severe changes to neurocognitive function. For a caregiver, it’s important to develop a deeper understanding of the relationship between the two conditions and how to support your loved one who has dementia more easily manage their diabetes.
The Relationship Between Diabetes and Dementia
Diabetes and dementia have a complex relationship. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, one study found that people living with type 1 diabetes are 93% more likely to develop dementia than those without diabetes. Researchers have also discovered a strong correlation between high blood sugar levels, such as those associated with type 2 diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease, the leading cause of dementia. While the exact nature of this connection is unknown, evidence suggests that people with hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) have a significant increase in beta-amyloid protein levels, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.
As a whole, the body of research on diabetes and dementia suggests the following:
- Diabetes, both type 1 and type 2, may be a risk factor for dementia
- Type 2 diabetes may accelerate brain aging and cognitive decline
This in no way means that everyone with diabetes will go on to develop dementia, nor does it mean that diabetes and dementia can’t be effectively managed together. But for those living with both diabetes and dementia, finding tools and strategies that promote strong adherence to their diabetes management plans is very important.
Managing Diabetes With Dementia
Helping a loved one manage diabetes with dementia can be challenging for caregivers as diabetes management involves daily participation in many important self-care tasks. The key is to find ways to simplify the complex, or otherwise challenging, tasks that may become difficult as dementia progresses.
Diet, Exercise, and Treatment Adherence
Physical activity: Regular exercise is fundamental to successful diabetes management. Exercise has been shown to improve glycemic control, support weight management, and help preserve muscle mass. With the guidance of your loved one’s healthcare team, determine activities based on your loved one’s functional status, cognitive status, mobility limitations, and individual preferences. Even something as simple as a short walk around the neighborhood can provide meaningful mental and physical health benefits.
Diet and nutrition: Maintaining a healthy diet is important for people living with diabetes. Although it can be more challenging for those with dementia, there’s plenty caregivers can do to promote healthy eating habits. You may consider leaving healthy snacks in easily-accessible locations throughout the house, labeling prepared snacks and meals, and finding healthy substitutes for their favorite foods or meals.
Treatment adherence: People living with diabetes often need to take medication to manage diabetes and/or dementia symptoms. Caregivers need a reliable system in place for managing medications to ensure their loved one is meeting their blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol targets while taking their dementia medications properly. If necessary, you can use tools such as pillboxes and blister packs as well as prompts such as diaries, reminders, and calendars to improve adherence. You can also take advantage of health apps to further promote treatment adherence.
Blood Glucose Monitoring
Monitoring blood glucose levels and keeping track of changes gives healthcare teams important insight into how well treatment plans are working and whether any adjustments are needed. Routine monitoring can help you detect and prevent blood sugar events in your loved one and allow you to make informed day-to-day decisions.
However, regular monitoring of glucose levels can be difficult for people with dementia. In the earliest stages, people living with dementia are often able to complete normal day-to-day activities, including checking their own blood sugar. As the disease progresses, however, their ability to do so is greatly compromised. Performing a complex, multi-step testing process with a traditional blood glucose monitor can become a stressful and challenging ordeal.
Of course, as a caregiver, you want to help your loved one stay as independent as possible for as long as possible. However, experts recommend that people living with both diabetes and dementia receive support in managing and monitoring their glucose levels.
To ensure effective diabetes management, it’s important to find a glucose monitoring solution that requires minimal effort from both you and your loved one. Luckily, there are several ways to simplify daily glucose monitoring for both parties:
Continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) are wearable devices that continuously monitor glucose levels, day and night. A sensor is inserted under the skin (usually on the arm or stomach), held in place with an adhesive patch or tape, and connected to a transmitter that sends readings to a monitor. While convenient, CGMs aren’t ideal for everyone. Because CGMs measure glucose in interstitial fluid versus blood, the readings aren’t always exact, particularly if your loved one’s glucose levels change rapidly. If they have sensitive skin, adhesive patches may cause skin irritation.
Automatic blood glucose monitors (ABGMs) automatically lance and collect blood with the press of a button. This allows you to check your loved one’s blood sugar as needed and can help you better understand how meals, activities, and other lifestyle factors affect glucose levels throughout the day.
Find Solutions That Simplify Diabetes Management
Managing diabetes with dementia can be complicated. A diabetes management plan that once worked may need to be adjusted to accommodate changing needs and abilities. Finding technologies that work for both parties can greatly simplify day-to-day management.
Using an ABGM, such as the POGO Automatic® Monitor, makes frequent checking quick and easy. POGO Automatic is the first and only FDA-cleared all-in-one blood glucose monitor with 10-test technology that automatically lances and collects blood in one easy step. To check blood glucose, place your finger on the test port and the monitor will automatically lance, collect blood, and provide accurate results within seconds.
POGO Automatic features Bluetooth connectivity and comes with access to the free Patterns® for POGO Automatic app. This innovative app was built to comply with HIPAA rules and offers all of the following:
- Automatic syncing of POGO Automatic data via Bluetooth so you can track blood glucose results on your phone, tablet, or PC
- Easy integration with popular wellness apps, including Fitbit®, Garmin®, Apple® Health, and Omron®
- Blood sugar event notifications and tips
- Test reminders
- Data sharing via the Patterns sharing circle feature
As your loved one’s abilities decline, it’s normal to need guidance, new strategies, and new tools to adapt to their needs. Work with their healthcare team to discover routines that work for you and your loved one.
Robert Miller is a customer experience specialist committed to helping people navigate the world of diabetes. He focuses on finding innovative tools and strategies that make diabetes management easier to support long-term wellness.
All content on this website is for educational purposes only and does not replace the guidance of your healthcare practitioner. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new healthcare regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.