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Diabetes is a serious chronic disease that can be managed through lifestyle changes and medication. Over 18 million US adults have diabetes, and another 41 million, age 40 to 74 have pre-diabetes.

Beside all possible complications that diabetes can carry, these last couple of years there has been a lot of talk about a possible impact of diabetes on cognitive abilities of the patient. How much is diabetes responsible for cognitive dysfunction in older people is still under investigation.  There have been several researches on this subject, done comparing cognitive functioning of older people with and without diabetes, and the results are confusing.

Today, most experts agree that cognitive functioning, beside diabetes, is probably also adversely affected by age, illness duration, glycemic control, and the presence of other co-morbid conditions which are common in older people. Another study has proven that older people with diabetes are at an increased risk of developing dementia. 

Overview of Diabetes

Diabetes mellitus is a serious metabolic disorder characterized by hyperglycemia (high blood sugar). There are several types of diabetes; the WHO recognizes three main forms which have similar signs, symptoms, and consequences, but different causes. What's characteristic for all three types is that they are caused by the beta cells of the pancreas being unable to produce enough insulin to prevent hyperglycemia!

Three types of diabetes are:

  • Type 1 diabetes: This form of diabetes is usually due to autoimmune destruction of the pancreatic beta cells.
  • Type 2 diabetes: This form of diabetes is characterized by tissue resistance on insulin, although there is enough insulin in the circulation.
  • Gestational diabetes: Similar to type 2, gestational diabetes involves insulin resistance, but occurs in pregnancy. The hormones of pregnancy cause insulin resistance in women genetically predisposed to developing this condition.

Gestational diabetes typically resolves with delivery., but types 1 and 2 are incurable chronic conditions. They have been treatable since insulin became medically available on the market, though.

Common diabetes complications

Diabetes can cause several possible complications. These could be divided into acute and chronic.

The most common acute complications are:

  • hypoglycemia
  • ketoacidosis
  • nonketotic hyperosmolar coma

The most common long-term complications include:

  • Cardiovascular disease: Diabetics have a double risk of developing heart disease
  • Chronic renal failure: This serious complication leads to diabetic nephropathy, which later leads to dialysis 
  • Retinal damage: This complication leads to blindness 
  • Nerve damage
  • Microvascular damage: This may cause erectile dysfunction (impotence) and poor healing of the wounds (which, in turn can later lead to gangrene).
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