Recent studies have revealed memory loss is more prevalent in people with certain chronic illnesses. For example, people with high blood sugar levels and inflammation have an increased risk of memory loss as well as those with elevated blood pressure levels. Discover more about the link between chronic illness and memory loss and what you can do about it.

What is Memory Loss?

Memory loss can be a normal part of aging. However, there are differences between the memory loss that occurs as you get older and the memory changes associated with chronic illnesses. Common symptoms associated with aging and memory loss are misplacing your keys, forgetting your current thought, or forgetting the name of an acquaintance. Serious symptoms of basic memory loss may include repetitive questions, an inability to follow directions, forgetting faces, getting lost while driving or walking, and forgetting common words while talking. If you have any of these symptoms you should consult with your doctor as soon as possible.

Memory Loss and Diabetes

A study published in the 2015 journal Neurology suggests people with high blood sugar levels could have an increased risk of memory loss. It also includes people who do not have diabetes, such as those with impaired blood flow and minimized blood vessel function. People with peripheral arterial disease or peripheral vascular disease are at increased risk of memory loss. All these conditions may originate from inflammation. People with chronic illnesses have compromised immune systems which could put them at risk for memory loss. The author of the study, Vera Novak MD, said, “We ultimately concluded that diabetes-related inflammation of the small blood vessels in the brain may accelerate decline in those with type 2 diabetes”. Past studies have shown people with diabetes have a heightened risk of dementia as well as memory loss. Keeping control of your blood sugar levels, taking medications as directed, and making necessary lifestyle changes are important to help avoid memory loss.

Inflammation and Memory Loss

Conflicting studies exist as to whether inflammation causes the insulin resistance associated with diabetes or if current inflammation is made worse by high blood sugar levels. Ongoing studies are being done to find out more about the link between inflammation, memory loss, and diabetes. Metabolic syndrome is a risk factor for developing diabetes type 2. Symptoms of metabolic syndrome include body fat around the middle, increased blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels, and raised blood sugar levels. If you are diagnosed with metabolic syndrome or pre-diabetes, the doctor may recommend medication, lifestyle changes, and regular exercise to help lower your blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. This can also help reduce the risk of memory loss and conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Other Conditions Can Lead to Memory Loss

There are several other chronic conditions and health problems that can lead to memory loss. These conditions are also commonly found in people with diabetes. Having these conditions diagnosed and treated by a doctor can help lower your risk of developing memory loss. Consider some of the conditions and issues and whether they could apply to you.

Chronic Stress

A recent study indicated chronic stress could lead to memory problems. Stress can interfere with the glutamate signaling in the brain and impair functions such as attention and memory. People with diabetes can be prone to chronic stress because of the constant self-management required to keep their blood sugar under control. Ways to reduce stress include deep breathing, meditation, yoga, Tai chi, hobbies, acupuncture and socialization with people and pets. People who experience ongoing stress for several weeks should talk to a therapist or counselor about their feelings.


Memory Loss and SmokingSmoking reduces the amount of oxygen that travels to your brain which can harm your memory. Smoking can also cause health conditions that are associated with diabetes, such as high blood pressure and heart disease. People with diabetes should quit smoking. Consider talking to your doctor about smoking cessation programs, Chantix pills, Nicorette chewing gum, going cold turkey, acupuncture, hypnosis, and other techniques used to quit the habit.


People with diabetes often take medications to control their blood sugar levels. They may also take other medications recommended by their doctor based on their unique health issues. This could include antidepressants, pain medications, and anti-anxiety medications, statin medications, blood pressure medications and muscle relaxants. Most of these medications can also lead to memory loss. Learn more about the side effects of the medications you take and discuss them with your health care team. Always let each member of your health care team know all the medications you are taking to avoid contraindications. Never stop taking medications without sharing this with your health care provider.

Alcohol and Drug Use

Research has shown over the years that alcohol and/or drug use can cause memory loss and a myriad of other health conditions. These substances can cause your blood sugar levels to rise dangerously when you have diabetes. Consider cutting back on your drinking habits or discuss rehabilitation programs with your doctor. You may consider joining a 10-step program to help you quit.

Sleep Deprivation

People with diabetes are prone to sleep deprivation problems and sleep-related conditions such as sleep apnea. Sleep is especially important to maintaining your memory. Ask your doctor about going to a sleep clinic so medical professionals can observe your sleeping patterns to determine what treatments could help you get the sleep you need each night.

Poor Nutrition

Nutritional deficiencies, especially a lack of vitamin B1 and B12, can affect your memory. Sources of B1 include liver, beef, oats, legumes, and seeds. Vitamin B12 is found in meat, fish, poultry, milk, eggs, and fortified cereals. Vitamin B12 also comes as a supplement in a liquid drop which is easily absorbed under the tongue. Work with a dietitian or diabetes nurse educator to develop a healthy diet that includes quality proteins and fats.

How to Reduce Your Risk of Memory Loss

Fortunately, there are ways to help reduce your risk of memory loss. People with diabetes need to keep their blood sugar levels within the range recommended by their health care team. Usually they are aiming for an A1C level of 6.5-7.0% but may have a specific request for you. Blood pressure is another parameter which needs to be kept under control to help preserve memory. The standard for blood pressure is 140/80 when you have diabetes.

Diabetes Care and Treatment

It is imperative to take all medications as prescribed by your doctor. Talk to a diabetes dietitian about a balanced diet that includes anti-inflammatory foods such as berries, green vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and fatty fish with omega-3s, such as tuna and salmon. Mediterranean diets can be helpful in reducing inflammation. Avoid inflammatory foods, such as fried food, white bread and pastas, sugary snacks, and processed meats such as hot dogs. Avoid boxed and bagged treats. Exercising daily can also reduce the risk of chronic conditions that lead to memory loss. Get moving for at least a half hour each day. This can include walking, biking, and any physical activities you enjoy. Plus, exercise can help reduce inflammation and stress.

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Improve Brain Cognition and Strengthen Your Lungs

The concept of using it or losing it applies to maintaining your memory. Improve your brain cognition and prevent memory loss by doing mental activities. Engage your brain by joining a book club, socializing with friends, solving puzzles or playing brain-training apps online. Take classes at a local college at night or enroll in low-cost or free classes online to keep your brain thinking and active. Learn to play a musical instrument or take a foreign language class. Harvard studies have shown strong lung function is linked with improved memory. Do breathing exercises and engage in aerobic activities to strengthen your lungs. Swimming activities requiring holding your breathe can also increase lung function.

Knowing the connection between chronic illness and memory loss it the first step toward preventing memory problems. A healthy diet, good blood sugar and blood pressure control, regular exercise, reduced stress, ongoing brain activity, and proper medical treatment all play major roles. Remember, with the right diabetes self-management plan you can retain your memory for years to come!