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Type 2 Diabetes Linked to Difficulties With Mental Tasks


Although the study was not designed to determine how diabetes might affect the brain, the researchers were able to rule out some other factors that are often associated with aging or with diabetes, such as blood vessel narrowing that could lead to decreased blood flow to the brain or stroke, high blood pressure, or depression.

"From a research point of view, it makes us think about what is the link between diabetes and cognitive function," David A. Bennett, MD, tells WebMD.

Bennett, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study, is with the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center and department of neurological sciences at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago. "Why do people with diabetes lose cognitive abilities? The easiest explanation is that diabetes is associated with strokes, but on the other hand, that may not be true. It may actually be related to insulin metabolism and the way the brain deals with insulin and diabetes," he says.

Bennett says that because type 2 diabetes is caused by the body's increasing inability to use insulin to process glucose, the major form of sugar in the blood, the disease may somehow alter the ability of individual nerve cells in the brain to store and use glucose. Some brain researchers think that problems with glucose metabolism may cause or contribute to Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia.

The study was supported in part by grants from the Public Health Service of the National Institutes of Health.

Vital Information:

  • A new study shows that older women with type 2 diabetes are more likely to have problems with memory, concentration, and general mental tasks compared to nondiabetics.
  • Men were not included in the study, but researchers suspect the findings would apply to them as well.
  • Two possible explanations for the results are that the disease is associated with strokes, or that insulin metabolism is altered in the brain of diabetics
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