Diabetes Speeds Up Cognitive Decline

Diabetes and poor blood sugar control may quicken cognitive decline in elderly patients

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Diabetes affects much more than blood sugar. The disease can cause problems in the brain and nervous system, which means that the mental health of diabetes patients could be at stake.

Diabetes is associated with a higher risk of cognitive decline (problems with memory, language, thinking, and judgment), even in people who develop diabetes in their later years.

Mental health may worsen more rapidly in patients with poor blood sugar control.

"Controlling your blood sugar may prevent cognitive decline."

For many people, cognitive decline is a normal part of aging. However, some diseases - including diabetes - can quicken the decline in mental function. Over time, patients may experience forgetfulness, trouble making decisions, and poor judgment.

In the past, researchers have looked at cognitive decline in people who already have diabetes. In their recent study, Kristine Yaffe, MD, and her colleagues at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) looked at cognitive decline in older people who developed diabetes later in life.

The researchers also studied how poorly controlled diabetes, or poor blood sugar control, could worsen cognitive decline.

They found that diabetes was associated with worse cognitive function among older adults. They also found that poor blood sugar control was associated with a greater decline in cognitive function.

"Both the duration and the severity of diabetes are very important factors," said Dr. Yaffe in a UCSF news release.

"It's another piece of the puzzle in terms of linking diabetes to accelerated cognitive aging," she said.

At the beginning of the study, 717 of 3,069 participants had diabetes. Of those without diabetes when the study began, 159 developed diabetes during the course of the study.

Patients who had diabetes at the beginning of the study suffered a quicker cognitive decline than those who developed diabetes during the study.

According to the authors, future research should find out if early diagnosis and treatment of diabetes can reduce the risk of cognitive decline. Researchers also should study if good blood sugar control can reduce the effects of diabetes on cognition.

The current study received support from the National Institute on Aging, the National Institute of Nursing Research, the Intramural Research Program of the National Institutes of Health, and the American Health Assistance Foundation.

The results are published in the Archives of Neurology.

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Review Date: 
June 23, 2012
Last Updated:
November 19, 2012