Having peripheral neuropathy is linked to cognitive decline in people with type 2 diabetes, according to a new study published in the Journal of Diabetes and its Complications.
Cognitive impairment and dementia are widespread problems among older adults, and this is especially true for people with diabetes. Studies have shown that people with poorly controlled type 2 diabetes, in particular, are much more likely to develop dementia. People with type 1 diabetes, on the other hand, may be at higher risk for dementia if they frequently experience either high or low blood glucose. Fortunately, there are steps you may be able to take to reduce your dementia risk — including following a healthy lifestyle in general and limiting inflammatory foods in your diet in particular.
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For the latest study, researchers assessed 5,047 middle-aged people who were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes less than 10 years before the study began. Researchers assessed both their cognitive function — using standardized tests for verbal learning, immediate and delayed recall memory, executive function, processing speed, and ability to concentrate and organize data — and the presence of any peripheral neuropathy or cardiovascular autonomic neuropathy. Peripheral neuropathy is nerve damage that affects the limbs — usually the feet and legs — while autonomic neuropathy affects the function of organs, in this case the heart and/or lungs.
Peripheral neuropathy linked to cognitive performance
As noted in a Healio article on the study, participants had an A1C level (a measure of long-term blood glucose control) that ranged from 6.8% to 8.5%. Out of the entire group, 27.5% were found to have peripheral neuropathy, while 9.8% had cardiovascular autonomic neuropathy. After adjusting for other factors that could affect cognitive performance, the researchers found that peripheral neuropathy — but not cardiovascular autonomic neuropathy — scores were linked to cognitive scores. Still, the presence and severity of peripheral neuropathy explained only 1.2% of the variation in cognitive scores.
The researchers noted that the mechanisms behind the link between peripheral neuropathy and cognitive decline remain unknown — and that more studies are needed to explore this connection. But there is some evidence that certain kinds of nerve stimulation may activate parts of the brain that are essential to cognition — which suggests that peripheral neuropathy could potentially actually lead to a loss in cognition, rather than simply being linked to it as a complication of diabetes. Much more research is needed, though, before researchers can say with certainty that peripheral neuropathy has harmful cognitive effects.
Want to learn more about managing neuropathy pain? Read “Controlling Neuropathic Pain,” “Nutrition for Neuropathy,” and “Coping With Painful Neuropathy.”
Want to learn more about maintaining cognitive health with diabetes? Read “Nine Tips to Keep Your Memory With Diabetes,” “Staying Sharp: Seven Ways to Keep Your Brain Healthy With Diabetes,” “Keeping Your Brain Strong With Diabetes” and “Memory Fitness: How to Get It, How to Keep It.”