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Can Diabetes Cause Memory Loss?

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An older lady smiling and checking her blood sugar level using a glucometer and test stripe at home

Diabetes is a medical condition that affects how the body uses blood sugar (glucose). If left untreated, diabetes can cause various health complications in the body, including the brain. 

Diabetes can cause memory loss, as high blood sugar damages the blood vessels and nerves in the brain. Damage to the brain can lead to cognitive decline and other problems like dementia, which may require personalized care and support

What Is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a condition that occurs when the body either cannot produce enough insulin or cannot effectively use the insulin it produces. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that regulates blood sugar levels. In diabetes, elevated blood sugar levels can lead to various health complications affecting the heart, kidneys, and eyes. 

There are 2 main types of diabetes: type 1, where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys insulin-producing cells, and type 2, where the body becomes resistant to insulin or does not produce enough insulin. Properly managing diabetes involves monitoring blood sugar levels, adopting a healthy lifestyle, and, in some cases, medication or insulin therapy. 

Understanding Memory Loss

Typically, memory consists of an individual’s ability to learn, store, and recall new information. Memory loss is common in people due to age-related changes. Symptoms associated with normal aging can include occasionally forgetting names or misplacing objects. 

However, a person can also experience memory loss with dementia, which can impact their quality of life and make it difficult to perform daily tasks. Symptoms associated with neurodegenerative diseases like dementia can include:

  • Forgetting familiar words
  • Repeating questions
  • Getting lost while walking or driving
  • Sudden mood changes
  • Difficulty following instructions

In cognitive decline, which affects a person’s memory, remembering important facts, information, and events is challenging. Some common causes of memory loss are Alzheimer’s disease, traumatic brain injury, depression, stress, and even diabetes. 

The Connection Between Diabetes & Memory Loss

The brain needs sugar for energy to carry out certain functions. It’s also sensitive to the amount of sugar it receives. High and low blood sugar can affect the command centers in the brain and lead to learning difficulties, mood shifts, weight gain, and hormonal changes. There are several ways in which diabetes can cause memory loss. 

Damage to the Brain

Diabetes can affect the brain in many ways, including damage to the blood vessels that supply the brain with oxygen. Damaged blood vessels affect the flow of oxygen-rich blood, causing brain cells to die. 

Brain atrophy or brain cell death can cause memory loss and problems with thinking. In the long term, it can lead to vascular dementia

Insulin Imbalance

Insulin helps regulate blood sugar levels. Insulin also plays a role in memory function and may contribute to cognitive functioning. However, in diabetes, because of insulin imbalance or abnormalities, it can worsen cognitive impairments associated with Alzheimer’s disease.


The link between type 2 diabetes and cognitive decline is not clear, but a potential reason for memory loss in diabetes may be chronic systemic inflammation. High blood sugar in diabetes can cause inflammation that may damage brain cells and lead to the development of dementia. 

How to Reduce the Risk of Memory Loss

For those with diabetes, you can monitor and manage blood sugar levels to help reduce the risk of memory loss. You can do this by adopting several strategies

  • Exercise regularly
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Monitor blood sugar levels regularly
  • Keep blood sugar levels within normal limits
  • Manage stress
  • Take medications as prescribed
  • Avoid smoking
  • Visit a healthcare provider regularly

Navigating Memory Loss

Navigating memory loss in a loved one can be challenging. Whether it’s due to aging, neurodegenerative conditions, or other health issues like diabetes, as a family member, you can encourage your loved one to get a prompt diagnosis to determine the degree of memory loss and help facilitate appropriate treatment. 

If memory loss affects your loved one’s ability to carry out daily tasks and impairs their reasoning and language, seek support, both for yourself and your loved one, from healthcare professionals, support groups, or a memory care community. Ultimately, navigating memory loss in a loved one is about providing the right care and support, fostering connection, cherishing the time you have with them, and acknowledging that the essence of the person you love exists beyond the boundaries of memory.

A group of older adults sitting around a table, eating and enjoying breakfast while smiling and chatting with each other

Personalized Memory Care

While it’s still not clear exactly how diabetes causes memory loss, evidence suggests that high blood sugar levels can cause damage to the blood vessels and nerves in the brain. Monitoring diabetes and adopting a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise, healthy eating, and stress management can reduce your loved one’s risk of developing cognitive impairment and dementia.

If you’re interested in memory care for a loved one with cognitive decline, book a tour of The Legacy at Forest Ridge to learn about our community and how we can support them. 

Written by LifeWell

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