At least one-third of people are unaware that having diabetes can increase the risk of developing dementia, a new study has shown.
The research by Trinity College Dublin (TCD) involved over 500 people, half of whom had diabetes and half of whom did not. The researchers found a lack of awareness when it came to brain health complications that can arise as a result of diabetes.
"Although awareness of diabetes as a risk factor for dementia was somewhat higher among people with diabetes, overall one in three of those surveyed were unaware that dementia can be a complication of diabetes.
"While there is greater awareness of the potential impact of diabetes on organs such as the kidneys and eyes, unfortunately there is much less awareness that having diabetes increases a person's risk of developing dementia two-to-three-fold," explained the study's lead author, Dr Catherine Dolan, of TCD.
She said that these figures are particularly worrying given the projected increase in the number of people with diabetes over the coming years.
A report by the Institute of Public Health back in 2010 predicted a 62% increase in the number of people with diabetes in Ireland by 2020, largely due to an ageing population, more obesity and less physical activity.
Currently in Ireland, an estimated 225,000 people have diabetes.
"By taking measures to reduce our risk of diabetes - maintaining a healthy weight, staying active, reducing alcohol intake, not smoking, and managing conditions such as high blood pressure and cholesterol - we are also potentially helping to reduce our risk of developing dementia.
"This is particularly important for people aged between 40 and 65 years, as evidence increasingly suggests that the changes in the brain which eventually lead to symptoms in those individuals that develop dementia begin in mid-life," Dr Dolan noted.
Common symptoms of dementia include memory loss, difficulties with thinking and language, difficulties with carrying out everyday tasks, and changes in mood and behaviour.
"These symptoms can impact on the management of a person's diabetes, potentially leading to other complications and adversely affecting their quality of life.
"If a person is worried or concerned that they may be experiencing these symptoms, it is important that they speak to a doctor. Early diagnosis gives people the best chance to prepare and plan for the future, and to receive treatment," Dr Dolan said.
This study was carried out as part of the Dementia: Understand Together campaign, which is raising awareness of the disease and providing information on supports and services available to those affected. For more information on the campaign, which is led by the HSE and the Alzheimer Society of Ireland, click here
For more information on diabetes, click here