News article

Diabetes in Middle Age May Cause Memory Problems Later

Posted:  Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A new study has found that people who are prone to high blood pressure and diabetes in their middle age are susceptible to brain strokes and damage which results in dementia and Alzheimer’s as they age. Diabetes and high blood pressure have the ability to shrink the brain over a long period of time, the diseases reduce the size of the hippocampus (a part of the brain that is responsible for storing, memory forming and organizing) resulting in memory loss and memory related problems.

Furthermore, both diseases can increase the risk of micro-strokes as well as damage the blood vessels that feed the brain.

“People who had diabetes earlier in life had a much worse brain [structure] than those who had it later in life,” said lead author Dr. Rosebud Roberts, a Mayo Clinic researcher and a member of the American Academy of Neurology. “These scans are showing us that cognitive impairment happens over a long period of time. The earlier you develop type 2 diabetes, the more likely you are to have damage.”

Both men and women showcase different symptoms of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is sudden and aggressive whereas, type 2 progresses slowly and the symptoms might go unnoticed.

Certain symptoms are specific to men such as reduced muscle mass, itching around the penis and erectile dysfunction. On the other hand women, suffer from thrush and yeast infections, itchiness around the vagina and female sexual dysfunction. These are specific to men and women over and above the common symptoms such as weight loss, excessive thrust fatigue, nausea, irritability, blurry vision, slow healing, numbness and tingling.

Though brain strokes are not a direct symptom, but the numbness, tingling, dizziness and blurry vision can be attributed as symptoms of a stroke. Diabetics are at a higher risk of having a stroke, their bypass arteries that can supply blood are affected by atherosclerosis, impairing blood flow to the brain.

Even though diabetes has been linked with memory problems this study is the first of its kind that support this theory of linking it to brain related issues.

“When your hippocampus begins to shrink, you begin to lose your long-term memory and your ability to remember recent events,” said Dr. Roberts.

“The research results emphasize the need for people to adopt a healthy lifestyle in middle age or earlier,” said Keith Fargo, director of scientific programs and outreach for the Alzheimer's Association.

Most people think that they are at risk of Alzheimer’s, if it runs in the family, Fargo said. In reality, dementia can affect those who don’t take of themselves and diabetic are in a worse position.

By controlling and monitoring their blood pressure and diabetes, patients can lower the risk of brain stroke or damage. They can control the effect it has on the memory and keep check on their mental health.