Two serious healthcare trends – the soaring rates of 1) Type 2 diabetes and 2) dementia – have biological factors in common, which scientists are beginning to believe is more than coincidental.

An estimated 10% of dementia cases may be attributable to diabetes and, according to researchers knowledgeable on the relationship between the diseases, treating diabetes and risk factors linked to it, such as hypertension and high cholesterol, may help prevent many dementia cases, especially because hypertension and high cholesterol could trigger the dementia process years before symptoms of memory loss occur.

In fact, it is now thought that control of blood sugar level could pay off by reducing the number of people at risk for Alzheimer’s disease, other forms of dementia and even normal age-related cognitive decline.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the clogged arteries and inflammation in cells found in the development of heart disease and stroke also affect the brain. Therefore, reduction of diabetes risk is also good for reduction of the risk of cognitive impairment. Of the 6.8 million people in the U.S. that have some type of dementia, 5.4 million have Alzheimer’s disease today— projected to double by 2040.

More than 8 percent of all Americans have diabetes – either Type 1 (usually diagnosed in childhood requiring insulin injections) or Type 2 (typically involving weight gain in adulthood) – a number that is expected to grow with the rise in obesity. In diabetes, the body can’t produce enough insulin or use insulin properly to remove sugar from the bloodstream. When blood sugar remains too high, it can damage organs and lead to heart disease, kidney failure, nerve damage and other complications.

The relationship between diabetes and dementia drew new interest when a Japanese study – published in Neurology – that found that diabetics are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. What’s more, even people with poor glucose control were 35 % more likely to develop some type of dementia.

According to published research, regular moderate exercise can reduce the risk of diabetes by half, and efforts to trim abdominal fat may reduce the rate of cognitive decline, since carrying significant belly fat raises the risk of late-onset Alzheimer’s disease in the middle-aged and elderly.