Alzheimer’s, Dementia and Diabetes Connection — Tips for Caregivers

Is there a link between having diabetes and getting dementia, especially Alzheimer’s disease?

There is growing evidence the answer is yes.

Many experts have been investigating how diabetes or uncontrolled blood sugar may impact brain health.

We already know and have seen how elevated blood sugar damages our blood vessels, impacting other organs.

At the latest Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC), researchers presented information that family caregivers need to know about their new findings.

The Growing Connection

The Alzheimer’s Association has stated there is a growing connection between dementia and diabetes.

As a matter of fact, people with diabetes have an increased risk of cognitive decline and developing dementia compared to the general public. Several studies indicate that there is a 47% greater risk of any dementia, a 39% greater risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and a 138% increased risk of vascular dementia.

Diabetes raises the risk of heart disease and stroke causing harm to the heart and blood vessels. Damaged blood vessels in the brain may contribute to Alzheimer’s disease.

How might diabetes impair brain function?

It is thought that the brain depends on different chemicals which may be unbalanced by too much insulin (excreted in response to elevated blood sugar). Some of these changes may help trigger Alzheimer’s disease.

High blood sugar causes inflammation. This may damage brain cells and help Alzheimer’s develop.

Also, studies have found that people with high blood sugar levels had a dramatic increase in beta-amyloid protein, a protein toxic to cells in the brain.

Tips to Help When Dementia and Diabetes Occur

Complications from one disease process can influence the other when both are present in our senior loved ones. Treatment of one disease may mask the need for treatment of the other as well.

If your senior loved one has both dementia and diabetes, there are some strategies that you can employ to help them manage these chronic diseases.

  1. Treat the cognitive symptoms. There are medications (cholinesterase inhibitors) that should be given, especially as the disease progresses.
  2. Create an individual plan of care for your senior loved one. Each person with dementia is unique and there is no one size fits all intervention. Take into consideration family, cultural needs, preferences for care as well as priorities for care in the future. Your plan should also include ways family caregivers will get support so that they can manage the long-term journey of caregiving.
  3. Create your senior loved one’s plan for the future. Where will they live, how will they pay for their care, how will their finances be managed, what are their end of life wishes, have their legal documents been executed, and who will make decisions for them when they can no longer?
  4. Consider how technology and home care innovations help them live independently as long as possible. While technology won’t replace personal caregiving, it can improve outcomes and communication, especially during emergency situations. Telehealth can also make securing healthcare easier as the disease progresses.
  5. Manage diabetes by following the treatment plan. Controlling blood sugar to reduce inflammation and further damage becomes even more important when brain function is impaired.
  6. How will you protect someone with dementia? They are often the victims of scams, abuse and even self-abuse. They have more problem handling money, driving, handling unsafe objects such as guns, knives, or power tools in the home, and may wander away from home.
  7. Many older adults with diabetes are also overweight or obese. Their plan of care should include physical activity. Weight loss of as little as 5% can impact their blood sugar control favorably.
  8. Rapidly increasing confusion may be a sign of physical problems such as elevated blood sugar and should be investigated. It may not be related to the dementia. Treatment might resolve the increased confusion.
  9. At some point, the dementia will impede your senior loved one’s ability for self-care and management of their diabetes. It will also reduce their ability to understand their condition and why certain treatments are being done such as monitoring blood glucose and injecting insulin. How will you handle their resistance to life sustaining care? It will be helpful to maintain a routine for treatment so that they will be less likely to refuse care.
  10. Monitor your senior’s hydration and nutritional intake, as a failure to have an adequate intake in either case can worsen both conditions.

Learn All You Can

Family caregivers are encouraged to learn all that they can about the control of diabetes and the progression in all stages of dementia so that you can be ready to understand the changes you may observe.

Knowing as much as possible will help you be proactive and adjust your plan of care as needed in a timely way so that small issues don’t become big problems.

Choosing a Personal Emergency Response (PERS) Device – Family Caregiver Quick Tip

Technology innovation continues to improve the ways it can help our senior loved ones remain safe as they are aging in place.

While Personal Emergency Response Systems (PERS) have been around for many years — remember the commercials with the woman who had fallen and couldn’t get up? — there have been many innovations that make them very appealing to today’s independent living seniors.

Many family caregivers are being asked to advise and give some opinions about which device may be best to select. Others are initiating the purchase to help their senior loves one stay safe and independent.

How do you begin?

What questions should you be asking to learn what you need to know about this technology?

Which device will be the best fit for your senior?

Tips for Selecting a PERS

Realizing that an emergency device might be beneficial is a good first step towards helping your senior loved ones remain safe while they maintain their independence.

What exactly is a PERS? PERS are home devices that connect older adults to designated contacts or, typically, a 24-hour call center with the push of a button. The button or transmitter is typically worn on a neck pendant or wristband. When activated, it sends a signal to an emergency responder.

We recently talked to a provider of a PERS device and learned about some things family caregivers should know before they decide which device will work best for their family.

Questions to ask before you buy:

  1. What is included? Is it just a fall detection system or will it also include more options or expansion capabilities such as home invasion security, telehealth, or medical management? As PERS providers improve the devices and the technology, they are able to provide more services than just a fall response. Depending on what services you would find helpful, look for a cost-effective device to meet either the basic need or a more involved situation.
  2. What is the cost? Will there be a contract? What is the duration of the contract? Are there any equipment leasing costs or fees for monitoring? What is the installation cost? Will there be technology troubleshooting costs? Usually insurance companies and Medicare will not cover the cost of a PERS. You can check your senior’s long term care insurance policy to see if a home safety device would be covered.
  3. Can the caregiver be linked so updates and alerts are received? Who is called in an emergency and in what order – a call center or first responders or family caregivers?
  4. What does it look like? Is it attractive or will your senior not want to wear it? There are many new, stylish models available that look like jewelry and may be more acceptable for seniors.
  5. How long does the battery last and how is it recharged? Devices that are inconvenient to recharge or need it done frequently may end up tossed in a drawer — providing no value to your senior loved one and false peace of mind for family caregivers.
  6. What will the range of the device be? Is it a standalone cellular device or does it have GPS with Bluetooth connection to their phone so it will work outside the home?
  7. Is the device waterproof if it gets worn in the shower or out in the rain?
  8. Who is responsible for warranty or service if the device malfunctions, breaks, or wears out?
  9. Does the PERS device connect with others through your senior’s smartphone or a base station in their home, which might need wifi or a landline phone connection?

Additional Resources

There are more and more technology advances to help our senior loved ones age in place safely and comfortably. It can be hard to keep up with the innovations and know what purchase would benefit everyone. Here are some more articles to help you connect seniors to beneficial technology.

Senior Medication Safety to Avoid Medical Crisis – Family Caregiver Tips

Ensuring senior loved ones take their medication safely and avoid a medical crisis is a real worry for family caregivers.

Seniors generally take 5 or more prescribed medications in addition to the many over the counter drugs used daily.

This creates a situation in which many things can go wrong.

Caregiver worries often cover several aspects of medication administration, including these examples.

  • Are they taking the medications that are prescribed?
  • Do they take the right amount at the right time?
  • Are they relying on expired drugs to be effective?
  • Will they have an adverse reaction resulting in an emergency?

According to the Food and Drug Administration, the leading cause of medication errors is taking an improper dose. Adverse drug events result in 700,000 emergency room visits and 100,000 hospitalizations each year.

The statistics bear out the fact that family caregivers should be worrying. Luckily, there are actions that will help prevent medication mismanagement.

Tips for Medication Safety

Here are some steps family caregivers can take to influence improved medication intake among their senior loved ones.

  1. Ensure they take all medicine as prescribed, both prescription and over the counter. It is important to read the labels to understand when to take them, how much to take, and how to avoid interactions when taking any kind of medications. Follow all instructions. Don’t take anyone else’s medicines. No skipping doses or stopping drugs before talking with your physician.
  2. Keep your senior’s medication list up to date with name (both manufacturer and generic), dosage amounts, and medication time. If there are any changes, update the list. Provide this list to the pharmacist and every physician your senior visits to ensure that all medications are necessary and no drug-drug interactions will occur.
  3. Help them avoid medication interactions. Some drugs interact with other drugs or foods that are eaten. It is important to learn about all drugs your senior takes and avoid any interactions. Ask the pharmacist if you have questions. Don’t mix alcohol and drugs. Also, be aware of any side effects of the medications your senior takes and note any potential effects to discuss with the doctor.
  4. Always talk to your senior’s health providers (doctors, nurses and pharmacists) about the medications your senior takes. Include all over the counter medications, herbal supplements, nutritional products, and other substances your senior takes. Learning whether prescribed drugs are still necessary, if any are overlapping, or if they may be counteracting something else is an important part of every medical visit. You can also ask your pharmacist for a medication review which is a good idea to do at least annually.

If you or your senior have questions about drug administration, don’t be afraid to ask to keep your senior safe!

The best idea is to avoid unnecessary drugs, especially over the counter aides.

Additional Resources

There are many more considerations when it comes to medical safety for our senior loved ones. Check out some additional articles you might find helpful to keep them safe!


7 Healthy Aging Month Tips for Seniors & Caregivers – Family Caregiver Tip

Each year for over twenty years, we have celebrated Healthy Aging Month.

It is a great time to share the latest insights from the experts about how to live a healthy life as we age.

Healthy aging encompasses many aspects of our lives, whether we are family caregivers or senior adults.

The puzzle of healthy aging is composed of pieces such as healthy eating, physical activity, preventive health care, attitude, behaviors, socialization, engagement, positive lifestyle decisions such as smoking cessation and wearing seat belts, lifelong learning, financial well-being, and more.

Healthy Aging Magazine, which initiated September as the month to focus our attention on how we can make lifestyle improvements, learn more, and age successfully, says seniors and caregivers over age 55 can reinvent themselves with tips learned this month.

Tips for Healthy Aging

Pick a few or work on many of these tips to improve your own and your senior loved one’s lifestyle so that you can begin reinventing yourselves towards better well-being.

Here are 7 tips for healthy aging from Healthy Aging magazine:

  1. Do not act your age! Remember your favorite age – feel it and act it.
  2. Be positive in your conversations and actions. Catch yourself being negative and turn it into a positive.
  3. Ditch the downer friends. Distance yourself from people who don’t have a positive attitude.
  4. Walk like a vibrant, healthy person. Stand straight! Walk with long strides, head held high and step like you mean it.
  5. Lonely? Do something about it.
  6. How’s your smile? Use it often? Be sure your teeth are healthy by going to the dentist regularly.
  7. Get a physical. Physical activity and movement help you stay healthy. So does preventive healthcare. If you haven’t scheduled your health screenings and immunizations, this month is a great time to get that done.

Additional Resources

These are just a few ways you and your senior loved one can begin your health journey.

To learn more tips for healthy aging, check out some of these articles.