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Diabetes Health Center

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Type 2 Diabetes Linked to Difficulties With Mental Tasks

WebMD Health News

Jan. 26, 2000 (Boston) -- Older women with type 2 diabetes are more likely to have problems with memory, concentration, and general mental tasks than nondiabetic women, according to CDC researchers.

Men were not included in the study, which was part of a larger overall study of the consequences of fractures in women with osteoporosis, but the findings would likely apply to them as well, the researchers tell WebMD.

In a six-year study of more than 9,500 women aged 65 and over, women with type 2 diabetes scored lower on three cognitive (mental-function) tests and had a greater rate of decline in mental function over 3-6 years than did women without diabetes.

The study also showed that women who had diabetes for 15 years or longer were most likely to have experienced a decline in abilities such as attention, language, and eye-hand coordination, write Edward W. Gregg, PhD, and colleagues. The results of the study appear in the Jan. 24 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

"Our finding of an increased risk of cognitive decline associated with diabetes has important clinical, public health, and social ramifications. Cognitive impairment may be considered a potential long-term outcome of diabetes that clinicians should be aware of while taking care of older adults with diabetes," they write.

Earlier studies have led the researchers to expect some differences in mental function between diabetic and nondiabetic women. "What did come as something of a surprise, though, was that there's a 70% increased risk of a major decline on average, and that people who are taking insulin had a higher risk of cognitive decline. We don't think it was the insulin itself, but rather that insulin use was a marker of severity of disease," says Gregg, a researcher with the CDC's division of diabetes translation.

Gregg tells WebMD that although it is still unclear exactly how diabetes might affect mental processes, the best course of action for patients with type 2 diabetes may be to follow their doctors' advice and carefully control their blood sugar levels through the right combination of diet, exercise, medication, and, if necessary, insulin.

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