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Diabetes slows mental functions, even in middle-age

January 5, 2009 | 11:54 am

Brain1Here's a good reason to get your blood sugar under control: Another study has linked diabetes with a decline in several types of mental functions. The study, published today in the journal Neuropsychology, also found that these mental deficits appear in people who are in the early stages of the disease and persist into old age.

Researchers at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, studied 41 adults with diabetes and 424 adults in good health. The study participants were between the ages of 53 and 90 and were tracked for several years. The findings support earlier studies that have found diabetes impairs cognition. But the new study also showed that the deficits seem to begin early in the course of the disease and are not limited to elderly people. The researchers also found that adults with diabetes scored worse on two of five mental processing tasks that were measured: executive functioning and speed. There were no differences between the two groups in memory, verbal fluency, reaction time and perceptual speed. The deficits detected were not enough to impair a person's ability to work or function in daily life, the authors said, but they appear to predict additional cognitive decline.

"Speed and executive functioning are thought to be among the major components of cognitive health," Roger Dixon, a co-author of the study, said in a news release. "There could be some ways to compensate for these declines, at least early and with proper management."

With diabetes reaching epidemic levels and affecting people of younger ages, Dixon suggested that health professionals should consider checking the cognitive status of people with more advanced cases of the disease. Last week, a study in the journal Annals of Neurology, showed that even modest increases in blood sugar levels in people who are not diabetic can lead to changes in the brain that impair mental function.

-- Shari Roan

Image: James Yang / For The Times

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