Diabetes in Midlife Could Result in Cognitive Issues in Later Life

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Diabetes or pre-diabetes in midlife could result in cognitive issues later in life, according to new research findings. In fact, the study indicated that having diabetes in midlife was associated with a 20 percent greater decline in memory and thinking (cognitive) skills over the next 20 years. The findings from the study were published in the December 2 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine.

Diabetes has previously been linked to earlier onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in some patients, and leaving the illness untreated or unchecked may lead to the progression of other conditions, changes in behavior, and a disturbance in one’s emotional state.

Moreover, the recent study also revealed that midlife diabetes contributes to an accelerated aging process by as much as five years. Furthermore, when compared to people with normal blood sugar levels, individuals with elevated blood sugar levels experienced declines in mental performance.

The study was funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) and performed by researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who examined more than 25 years of data from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study (ARIC) study, and found that people with poorly managed blood sugar levels had nearly 20 percent higher risk of cognitive issues later in life when compared to those individuals with normal blood sugar levels.

The longitudinal (long-term) study, which was published on Tuesday in the Annals of Internal Medicine, started in 1987. During the 25 year study, scientists examined more than 13,000 African-American and Caucasian adults, aged 48 to 67, for diabetes and pre-diabetes symptoms and/or conditions using self-reported physician diagnoses and glucose control tests. In addition to monitored blood sugar readings and physical examinations, researchers also administered widely used tests of memory, reasoning, and cognitive abilities.

Researchers subsequently discovered that people diagnosed with elevated blood sugar levels in their 50s, which is considered midlife, are significantly more likely than those individuals with normal blood sugar levels to suffer mental decline by their 70s.

Researchers have suggested that people with elevated blood sugar levels, diabetes, and poorly controlled blood sugar levels in midlife had higher risks of cognitive issues in later life. Those individuals with the higher incidences of cognitive decline were those with poorly controlled blood sugar levels, according to the study researchers.

According to current estimates, approximately one in 10 Americans have diabetes or are at risk of elevated blood sugar levels. Research has proven that maintaining a healthy weight via diet and exercise can help prevent the disease, as obesity is a major risk factor for development of the life-altering condition.

In type 2 diabetes, which is acquired as opposed to inherent, which is observed in Type 1 (juvenile) sufferers, the body cannot process the hormone insulin effectively and subsequently develops a condition known as insulin-resistance. Insulin helps break down the sugars from foods into the body’s cells to be used for energy. Moreover, the midlife onset of elevated blood sugar levels is also a risk factor for a myriad of other conditions and disorders, including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure (hypertension), kidney disease, and potential blindness.

It is also important to note that the study authors acknowledged this study was only able to find a link between elevated blood sugar levels and a higher risk of cognitive issues later in life. However, the study was not able to determine conclusively if the blood sugar disorders were the actual cause of the cognitive decline observed in some patients. Thus, while it appears those with diabetes are at greater risk of cognitive issues later in life, not everyone with elevated blood sugar levels will develop greater cognitive decline or other conditions associated with the disease.

By Leigh Haugh

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GLV–Leigh Haugh

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