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Complications of diabetes like foot and visions problems and its effect on the kidneys and eyes have been well known. However, studies have revealed that it affects the brain as well leading to progressive memory loss and decline in cognitive functions.
Diabetes is one of the commonest diseases affecting the people worldwide. Type 2 diabetes, which constitutes 90% of all diabetes cases, affects about 285 million people around the world, which is about 6.4% of the entire population of this world. And the figures are said to double by the year 2030. In America alone, about 18 million people are said to be suffering from diabetes. And these figures do not include the people with pre-diabetes.

The results of the study showed that the blood vessels to the brain in diabetic patients were constricted and the gray matter of the brain was more atrophied compared to non-diabetic patients. The frontal, parietal and temporal lobes of the brain were affected the most. It was also seen that along with the high level of glucose in the blood, inflammatory cytokines were also present. These cytokines caused chronic inflammation of the blood vessels of the brain leading to impaired blood flow and consequent brain atrophy.

Scientists have been able to establish a clear association between diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease leading to memory loss, confusion and progressive dementia. A study by researchers from the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, and published in the journal Archives of Neurology has suggested that tau protein, responsible for the formation of tangles in Alzheimer’s disease, is affected by insulin abnormalities seen in diabetes.

Patients suffering from Diabetes exhibit a greater decline in Cognitive Test Scores compared to Non-diabetic people of the same age group

A research led by Dr. Kristine Yaffe from the University of California, San Francisco has shown a link between diabetes and cognitive aging. She along with her colleagues analyzed the effect of diabetes on the cognitive functions in 3,069 people, majority of whom were above 70 years of age. While 23% of the people were diabetic at the onset of the study, another 5% developed it during the course of the study. All the participants were subjected to repeated cognitive tests which focused on their memory, coordination, concentration and overall mental health. The participants were studied for a period of nine years.

At the end of the study period, it was noticed that there was a significant gap in cognitive test scores of people with and without diabetes. Patients suffering from diabetes exhibited a greater decline in the test scores compared to non-diabetic participants belonging to the same age group. The participants who developed the disease in the course of the study performed poorly compared to participants who did not suffer from diabetes. It was also seen that the deterioration in cognitive functions was in direct proportion to the level of blood sugar. The more poorly the disease was managed, the greater was the drop in the cognitive test scores.

In yet another study which included 824 nuns, priests and Catholic brothers, and was carried on for a period of six years, the researchers noted that 151 participants eventually developed Alzheimer’s disease. 31 of these patients suffered from diabetes. The researchers concluded that patients suffering from diabetes faced a 65% higher risk of suffering from memory loss as a result of Alzheimer’s disease.

All the above mentioned studies point to a strong link between diabetes and memory loss. Experts suggest that finding ways to prevent diabetes in midlife or before may be useful in preventing cognitive decline later in life. It is good to remember that eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly are two lifestyle factors that help in diabetes prevention and are good for the health of brain as well.

  • “Caffeine Consumption Prevents Diabetes-Induced Memory Impairment and Synaptotoxicity in the Hippocampus of NONcZNO10/LTJ Mice”, by Joao M. N. Duarte, et al. Published on April 13, 2012 in PLoS one, accessed on July 15, 2012.
  • “Researchers Identify Link Between Diabetes and Cognitive Impairment in Older Adults”, published in September 2011, accessed on July 15, 2012.
  • “Diabetes, Glucose Control, and 9-Year Cognitive Decline Among Older Adults Without Dementia”, by Kristine Yaffe et al, published online June 2012 in Archives of Neurology, accessed on July 15, 2012.
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