Diabetes and its precursors may speed the effects of aging on the brain and cause memory and other mental problems for older women, according to a new study.
Researchers found older women who had diabetes or pre-diabetes were nearly twice as likely to develop memory problems and other symptoms of age-related cognitive impairment as other older women. Cognitive impairment is a milder form of dementia caused by the decline of memory and other mental skills that occurs with advancing age.
Nearly 3 million older Americans have diabetes, and twice that many are at risk for developing the disease because they have pre-diabetes. Pre-diabetes is an increasingly common disorder in which blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not yet high enough to be considered diabetic.
Researchers say type 2 diabetes and memory problems are both age-related conditions, but little is known about any possible link between the two.
Diabetes Linked to Memory Decline
In this study, published in the Aug. 24 issue of Neurology, researchers used information gathered during a large osteoporosis drug study to look at the relationship between diabetes, pre-diabetes, and mental decline among 7,027 postmenopausal women. Of the women enrolled in the study, 267 had diabetes and 297 had pre-diabetes.
At the start of the study, women with diabetes had the lowest scores on tests of memory and mental function, followed by women with pre-diabetes. Women without either condition had significantly better scores.
After about four years of follow up, the study showed that women with diabetes and pre-diabetes suffered from significantly worse memory and mental decline than the other women. And the degree of memory decline was closely related to the degree to which their blood sugar levels were abnormal.
Researchers say there are several possible ways in which diabetes may negatively affect mental function and speed memory decline. For example, diabetes increases the risk of kidney disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and heart disease, which lead to memory problems and impaired mental performance.
They say their findings show that early diagnosis and treatment of diabetes and pre-diabetes is necessary to help prevent memory decline and other problems in the future.