People with diabetes may have more than an increased risk for stroke or a heart attack at an early age. In fact, individuals with the ailment may have a dramatically increased chance of developing Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia later in life, according to a new study conducted in Japan.

The study, which was published in the journal Neurology, tracked residents of the town of Hisayama, Japan in 1961, monitoring the number of people who developed cardiovascular diseases. In 1985, researchers began measuring the number of people who developed dementia.

After following 1,000 men and women over age 60 for an average of 11 years, researchers found that 27 percent of the people who had diabetes developed dementia later in life, compared with 21 percent of individuals without diabetes.

Our findings emphasize the need to consider diabetes as a potential risk factor for dementia, said study author Dr. Yutaka Kiyohara, of Kyushu University in Fukuoka, Japan. Diabetes is a common disorder, and the number of people with it has been growing in recent years all over the world. Controlling diabetes is now more important than ever.

Although the connection between diabetes and dementia isn't particularly new, researchers believe it adds a new dimension to the importance of treating diabetes before it is too late.

Diabetes has been known to put people at risk for strokes, which can lead to a kind of dementia known as vascular dementia, where damage to the brain's blood vessels deprives it of the oxygen it needs to function properly. Researchers also report there is growing evidence to suggest that all forms of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease, may be linked to how the brain responds to insulin, the hormone connected with diabetes.

In fact, a study released just last week found that daily spritz of insulin in the nose helped improved the memory skills of individuals with Alzheimer's-linked memory problems.

About 346 million people in the world have diabetes, according to the World Health Organization, which reports the disease killed an estimated 3.4 million people in 2004. Consuming a healthy diet, engaging in regular physical activity and maintaining a normal body weight can all help delay the onset of type 2 diabetes, which makes up about 90 percent of all cases of diabetes in the world.