With each decade of life, our deep fears change. Some are realized and some are not.
The fear of brain deterioration, memory loss and a loss of independence affects many of us. More than 25 percent of American families are involved in some way with elder/parent care. Colorado State University has been doing some research in the area of aging and, in particular, memory loss.
One study at CSU linked reduced levels of two chemicals in the brain – insulin and insulin-like growth factors – to brain shrinkage and memory loss as well as dementia in diabetics and Alzheimer’s patients. Low levels of insulin and the hormone known as Insulin-like Growth Factors accelerates brain shrinkage and the abnormal death of brain cells. This is particularly prevalent in Alzheimer’s patients and diabetics.
IGF is produced by genes. They preserve memory by supporting the function of brain connections (synapses). They also generate new neurons, clear plaque deposits in the brain and prevent the death of certain brain cells.
Releasing supplemental IGF into the brain can prevent learning and memory impairment, the study found. Because insulin regulates brain weight, tiny doses of insulin delivered into the brain can prevent brain shrinkage. We are learning that insulin receptors in the brain have functions beyond regulating glucose levels.
In the U.S., we spend billions of dollars caring for people with dementia. That number is expected to triple by 2050. This research could prevent the progression of dementia and save billions of dollars and, more importantly, save memories and help people retain their independence. Our memories make us unique, losing them is one of life’s cruelest fates.
Research has indicated a close relationship between diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. People with diabetes have nearly twice the risk of developing dementia. The two diseases share reduced insulin brain signaling and reduced IGF levels. Regardless of high blood sugar levels, patients with Alzheimer’s have particularly low levels of insulin and IGF.
After the age of 25, the brain begins to slowly shrink. This shrinkage is accelerated in people with Alzheimer’s and diabetes, who experience abnormal brain-cell death. Dementia results from severe impairments to learning and memory, as more memories are stolen, patients lose the capacity for self-care.
After the onset of dementia, average life expectancy is about eight years.
The peripheral nerves in patients with diabetes also may be regulated by these two chemicals. Is nerve damage (neuropathy) in diabetics the result of an imbalance in insulin and IGFs rather than the high blood sugar levels?
Supplementing the brain with IGF may prevent the loss of brain protein and the loss of brain function. This procedure could help arrest or retard the progression of dementia. Also, people who eat a heart-healthy diet may have a better chance of avoiding Alzheimer’s. We might indeed keep our memories and our independence as we age.
firstname.lastname@example.org or 382-6461. Wendy Rice is family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County Extension Office.