Health Watch: 5 clues to Alzheimer's

FRESNO, Calif.

It's a devastating brain disease that robs people of their memories, but now researchers are uncovering clues about Alzheimer's.

The first: high blood sugar, not just diabetes, may increase the risk.

"What we found was even far into the normal range, that higher levels of blood sugar were associated with a slightly increased risk of developing dementia," Paul K. Crane, MD, MPH, Associate Professor, Internal Medicine, UW Medicine, Seattle, Wash., told ABC30.

Researchers from the University of Washington studied more than 2,000 people and found those with higher glucose levels over five years had an 18 percent greater risk of dementia.

"The mechanism question is fascinating, and we don't know why," Dr. Crane said.

Another study found middle-aged people with high systolic blood pressure, which is the top number, were more likely to have biomarkers of Alzheimer's in their spinal fluid.

Every 10 point rise in pressure caused the average level of a protein -- called tau -- to increase.

How you walk may also be a clue to Alzheimer's. Mayo Clinic scientists found a slowed walking pace and shortened stride were associated with a decline in mental skills and memory.

Clue number four: depression is linked to Alzheimer's -- especially if you have both depression and diabetes.

"That dramatically increases your risk by over two-fold," Wayne J. Katon, MD, Professor and Vice Chair, Department of Psychiatry, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, Wash., told ABC30.

The last clue lies in your chest. Studies show as much as 80 percent of people with Alzheimer's also have heart disease. The best advice is to stay active, stay healthy, and watch for clues.

A recent study found Alzheimer's clues may start in infancy. Scientists scanned the brains of 162 babies, including 60 who inherited a gene that increases the risk of Alzheimer's.

Babies with the gene had less brain growth in several areas in the middle and backs of their brains -- the same regions that tend to be affected in older Alzheimer's patients.

For more information, contact:

Paul K. Crane, MD, MPH
Associate Professor, Internal Medicine
UW Medicine

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