Health Check: Diabetes, Alzheimer's connection

Researchers say patients with diabetes are twice as likely to develop the memory robbing disease Alzheimer's.

But exactly which ones? A simple test may hold the answer to that question.

More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's disease. One in three seniors will die with Alzheimer's or another dementia. These are the latest statistics from the Alzheimer's Association.

Knowing that diabetics are at higher risk, researchers wanted to come up with a better way to predict who in this population is at higher risk. They developed sort of check list of 45 risk factors, including age, education level, diabetes complications and hypertension.

"The more of these factors you have then the higher your risk score and what they found is that people with the highest risk scores had a 73 percent chance of developing dementia over 10 years, which is quite high," said Dr. Brian Ott.

Ott is the director of the Alzheimer's Disease and Memory Disorder Center at Rhode Island Hospital. He didn't take part in the research, but he's reviewed it.

"At least epidemiologic evidence to suggest that if you can modify risk factors for developing vascular problems, if you can reduce hypertension, diabetes, obesity, hypercholesterolemia, that at least theoretically you could reduce the development of dementia," Ott said.

"Interestingly, there are studies coming out, epidemiologic studies, lately suggesting that the incidence and prevalence of dementia actually may be declining here as well as other countries. We don't know why but we think that maybe it's because people are paying more attention to those health factors," he said.

Researchers from the Netherlands, Chicago, Oakland, Santa Rosa and Seattle took part in the study, which was published last month in the Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology journal.

It is the first scoring system developed to predict the risk of dementia in people with diabetes. The thinking is that those deemed at highest risk would be not only be closely monitored but take part in preventive interventions.