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Impaired intellectual functioning severe enough to interfere with normal activities and relationships. People with diabetes are more likely to experience cognitive decline and outright dementia than those without diabetes.

Research has shown that diabetes may contribute to memory loss and dementia. A study published in the journal Diabetologia in 2005 found that people with diabetes were roughly 1.5 times more likely to experience cognitive decline and dementia than those without diabetes. In a study published in the journal Neurology in 2011, people with diabetes were twice as likely to develop dementia as those with normal blood glucose levels. The risk of dementia was also higher in those with impaired glucose tolerance, also known as prediabetes.

There are a number of ways diabetes may contribute to dementia. It may affect cognitive function through cardiovascular disease, which can narrow blood vessels in the brain and starve the organ of oxygen. Chronic exposure of the brain to high levels of glucose may also promote cognitive decline. It is also possible that inadequate insulin secretion, insulin action, or both may affect cognitive processes.

Fortunately, a number of studies suggest that regular physical activity can help ward off dementia and slow its progression, possibly by improving blood flow to the brain. Research also suggests that staying engaged socially and regularly engaging in exercises that challenge memory, reasoning, and information processing can also help people avoid cognitive decline. Experts suggest activities such as learning a language, solving crossword puzzles, and playing board games to stay mentally sharp.

There are now drugs to treat Alzheimer disease and other forms of dementia, which may help slow the progression of symptoms. Cholinesterase inhibitors, which include donepezil (brand name Aricept, Aricept ODT), rivastigmine (Exelon), galantamine (Razadyne, Razadyne ER), tacrine (Cognex), and donepezil/memantine (Namzaric) are used to treat not only Alzheimer disease, but also vascular dementia and, in some cases, Parkinson disease. Memantine (Namenda) regulates the activity of the brain chemical glutamate and may be used to treat Alzheimer disease and other forms of dementia. Other drugs, such as those that treat high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, and diabetes, may slow the progression of dementia by treating some of its suspected underlying causes. Sometimes antidepressants are used to treat depression associated with dementia, and antipsychotic drugs may be used to treat symptoms such as anxiety, sleep difficulties, and hallucinations.

Talk with your doctor if you or a loved one is showing signs of dementia.

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