As is well known, diabetes brings the risk of developing a variety of other health problems, such as vision loss, nerve damage and kidney disease. Now, a new study in the journal Diabetologia from researchers in Australia indicates a link between Type 2 diabetes (T2D) and cognitive decline in older adults.
The researchers, who were from the University of Tasmania and Monash University, enlisted 705 people between the ages of 55 and 90 (average age 68) and monitored them for nearly five years. Of the group, 348 had Type 2 diabetes and 357 did not. The ones with diabetes had had the condition for about ten years. The investigators rated the participants’ cognitive functioning employing several neuropsychological measures, and, using MRI scans, measured the subjects’ brain volume to look for possible brain atrophy. At the beginning of the study, the subjects with diabetes were found to have greater brain atrophy than the others.
At the end of the study, after adjusting for sex, age, education and vascular risk factors such as smoking, the research team discovered a “greater decline in both verbal memory and verbal fluency” in the participants with diabetes. This decline, they said, “may poorly influence future vascular health and cognitive decline, and possibly an earlier onset of dementia in those with Type 2 diabetes.” It also could, they went on to say, “contribute to executive difficulties in everyday activities and health behaviors, such as medication compliance.”
The researchers found no difference in the rates at which the brain shrunk during the study period, but because the diabetes patients had greater brain atrophy at the beginning of the study, the researchers speculated that the effects of diabetes on brain atrophy might begin earlier in life than they thought. If that’s the case, they said, “both pharmacological and lifestyle interventions to prevent brain atrophy in people with T2D may need to commence before older age.”
Want to learn more about maintaining cognitive health with diabetes? Read “Nine Tips to Keep Your Memory With Diabetes,” “Keeping Your Brain Strong With Diabetes” and “Memory Fitness: How to Get It, How to Keep It.”