Diabetes May Slow the Middle-Aged Brain

Type 2 diabetes in those ages 50 to 65 may increase the likelihood of mild cognitive impairment

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) As people age, their brains may not work at full speed. For middle-aged people with type 2 diabetes, a decline in brain function may be more likely than for those who don’t have the disease.

Diabetes has been known to speed up mental decline in some people. The disease can hamper blood flow and weaken the small vessels in the brain, according to the American Diabetes Association.

The authors of a new study recently observed that people with type 2 diabetes were twice as likely to have mild cognitive impairment (MCI) than those without diabetes. MCI is a stage of mental decline that can come before more serious dementia.

"Maintain your diabetes treatment to help prevent mental decline."

Angela Winkler, MA, in the Department of Neurology at University Hospital Essen in Germany, led the study.

She and her colleagues assessed 560 patients with MCI. They compared them with 1,376 cognitively normal patients.

Patients were determined to have MCI through tests and self-reporting. These revealed problems with memory, verbal skills, thinking and judgment.

In total, 239 patients ages 50 to 65 had MCI, and 36 of these people also had type 2 diabetes. In this age group, 990 did not have diabetes.

In the 66-to-80 age group, 321 had MCI and 63 had type 2 diabetes. A total of 691 in this age range did not have diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes prevents the body from using insulin properly. Insulin is a hormone that lets cells use blood sugar. With type 1 diabetes, the body does not make insulin.

Compared to those without diabetes, diabetic patients had twice the chance of having MCI. The increased risk, however, was only observed in the middle-aged patients — not the older patients.

These results suggested that middle-aged people with type 2 diabetes may be particularly vulnerable to MCI.

The study authors looked at two MCI subtypes. Amnestic MCI is characterized by difficulties with memory. Non-amnestic MCI, on the other hand, affects thinking skills other than memory.

The authors found that middle-aged women with type 2 diabetes were more likely to have amnestic MCI, and middle-aged men were more likely to have non-amnestic MCI.

The authors wrote that MCI is “possibly modifiable” and doesn’t always develop into dementia.

This research “underlines the importance of high quality treatment of diabetes especially in middle age, not only because of cardiovascular damage, but also because it might help to prevent or delay cognitive decline,” according to a press release about the study.

The research was published in September in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
September 5, 2014
Last Updated:
September 6, 2014