Researchers have been studying the effects of type 2 diabetes on cognitive health in older individuals. They found that memory loss, depression, and other types of cognitive impairment are serious consequences of diabetes. They even found an answer to why this is the case.
In a new study, they report that older patients with diabetes have two molecules (called sVCAM and sICAM) that cause inflammation in the brain. They trigger a series of damaging events, which tend to occur in the gray matter in the brain’s frontal and temporal regions. This area is responsible for such critical functions as decision-making, language, verbal memory, and complex tasks.
By the time they turn 65, the average person’s brain shrinks about one percent a year. A diabetic’s brain can shrink as much as 15% in that same period of time.
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Diabetes goes hand in hand with inflammation. Researchers wanted to see if chronically inflamed blood vessels were causing altered blood flow to the brain in diabetics. The study included 147 people, average age 65, about half of whom had type 2 diabetes and had been taking medication for at least five years.
They underwent a variety of tests. The scans showed that the diabetic patients not only had more constricted blood vessels, but also more wasting away of brain tissue — particularly gray matter. In the patients with diabetes, the frontal, temporal and parietal regions of the brain were most affected. Plus, they found that high glucose levels (a hallmark of diabetes) were strongly linked to higher levels of inflammatory molecules.
The new findings provide more reason for doctors and patients to focus greater attention on how to manage diabetes. Because it carries a host of serious complications. Cognitive decline affects a person’s ability to successfully complete even the simplest of everyday tasks, such as walking, talking or writing.
There are nearly 26 million known cases of type 2 diabetes in the United States alone; about eight percent of the country’s population. The consequences for the brain are far too serious to ignore. Steps can be taken to protect against impairments in cognitive health. Diabetics should speak to their doctors regarding any concerns.