Over the last decade more research has looked at diabetes and the brain. Just this summer, a study published in the journal Neurology outlined that reduced blood flow and blood vessel capability speeds up cognitive impairment. In fact, the study showed that diabetes and memory loss are closely related.
Researchers studied 65 people between the ages of 57 and 75. Thirty-five of them had been treated for type-2 diabetes. At the beginning of the study they were tested for memory and brain function. Blood tests, blood pressure, inflammation markers, as well as MRI scans were taken into consideration. None of the participants had memory loss or other cognitive impairment. Two years later, the people who had type-2 diabetes showed severe memory loss, while none of the non-diabetic participants showed any memory loss.
People suffering from diabetes are encouraged to pay careful attention to their blood sugar levels so that they never get too high or too low. Monitoring how much physical exercise they get and what kind of foods they eat is key. Research shows that diabetes left uncontrolled can lead to cognitive impairment, particularly in the elderly.
There is a limited space for storage of glucose in the brain. It has to pass through the blood-brain barrier where its intake is in fact regulated. Our brain requires a constant supply of glucose to keep functioning properly. Studies show that when a person has too much glucose or too little glucose the brain starts to suffer. Just the right amount of glucose feeds the neurotransmitters in our brain. When we are learning new information or trying to remember something, we need neurotransmitters. If there is a disruption with neurotransmitters, our ability to learn diminishes and memory loss occurs.
At the University of Houston Department of Health and Human Performance there are studies being conducted on the brain and chronic health conditions. Assistant Professor Dr. Stacey Gorniak has been specifically looking at sensory, motor and cognitive function in middle aged and older adults who control their type 2 diabetes with medications. So far she reports “mild cognitive impairment, particularly in working memory, or short-term memory.”
Gorniak and a team of researchers used special examinations, time orientation and delayed recall as part of their tests with patients. They also asked patients to perform simple activities with their hands. In one experiment they had to hold a smartphone and were asked to repeat a set of words while interacting with the phone. The patients with type-2 diabetes had difficulty recalling the works and performing the activity.
Short-term memory loss can be frustrating. It can cause people a lot of anxiety and in some cases lead to depression.
The researchers are hoping to move on to study and identify changes in brain structures that are involved in cognitive functions. They believe having a better understanding of structural and functioning brain changes with diabetes will lead to improved treatment plans for diabetic patients.
People who suffer from diabetes may also be more likely to get dementia. There are approximately 46.8 million people around the world suffering from dementia and that number is expected to double every 20 years – reaching 131.5 million in 2050.
Neurology researchers at the University of Ohio discovered that there is a difference in cognitive ability between those with diabetes who have their disease under control and those whose diabetes is poorly managed.
Blood glucose tolerance tests, as well as hemoglobin measurements were taken for well over 2,000 patients. The hemoglobin test indicates whether or not a patient’s glucose level is under control. A blood glucose test shows if a patient’s glucose tolerance is impaired.
Cognitive ability was then measured by asking patients a series of questions, including simple math and recall questions. As it turned out, 80 percent of the patients scored low on cognitive abilities. All were people with poorly controlled diabetes.
Sleep is critical for everyone, but research has shown that poor sleeping habits can increase insulin resistance. It has also been proven that sleep has a positive impact on memory. Getting 7 to 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep each day is recommended.
Exercise is also good for the brain. Physical fitness releases endorphins, which can enhance mood. Some studies even demonstrate that exercise can create new neurons responsible for memory.
Along with exercise, a nutritious diet that is low in fat and rich in fish, fresh fruits and vegetables can nourish the brain and keep glucose levels steady.
Like most diseases, diabetes can be worse if you are stressed out. When we are faced with a stressful situation, we get excited and as a result our bodies tend to pump extra sugar through our blood stream.
Although opinions in recent years have been mixed on brain training, there is a large body of evidence suggesting that when we stimulate our minds it helps build mental muscles. This could mean that doing crossword puzzles, soduko puzzles or challenging our memory in some other way will help prevent cognitive impairment.
If you or someone you know is experiencing short-term memory loss or severe memory loss, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they have diabetes. There are a number of different reasons they could be having difficulty remembering. Diagnosis can take time, so it is important to mention any problems with memory to a doctor as soon as you notice them.