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Another Reason To Avoid Diabetes: Memory Loss


Researchers have found people diagnosed with diabetes in their 50s are significantly more likely than others to suffer mental decline by their 70s.

In this week’s Vital Signs, Dr. Angela Bentle, a geriatrics and internal medicine specialist with Methodist Charlton Medical Center, explains why this seems to occur in middle age than with younger people.

From Dr. Bentle’s interview…

Why this affects people in their 50s rather than younger:  I think it’s a progression of a process that’s been going on in the diabetic patient. You have deterioration of kidney function, you have loss of vision in advanced cases. You have damage to the nerves in the feet, which causes ulcers and, sometimes, amputations. So it stands to reason if there’s nerve damage in other areas, that there would nerve damage or central nervous system damage, whether it’s through vasculature or the nerve cells themselves in the brain, and I think that’s a toxic effect of prolonged elevated blood sugar.

How does diabetes affect memory loss? I think that, just like in other organs – the kidneys, the nervous system, the eyes, that it’s a toxic effect. You know elevated blood sugar with a lack of insulin or insulin resistance, the blood sugar isn’t getting where it needs to be to do what it needs to do, all of your cells need glucose, but the insulin or the defective insulin isn’t help the blood sugar to get there to be utilized. And it causes damage by floating around in the system. Elevated sugar in the bloodstream is toxic wherever it is, and it seems to affect other end organs, so why not the brain? It stands to reason that the brain will be affected. And yes for at least ten to 20 years, it’s been noted that there is dementia or cognitive decline associated with the prolonged diabetes.

Are there symptoms to watch out for? Drinking more, going to the bathroom more, and being fatigued all of the time, and you can’t explain why that is, because diabetes persists - especially Type 2, for a number of years before its diagnosed, unlike Type 1, where there’s an absolute deficiency or the body’s not making the insulin. With Type 2, it’s a slower process.

Can memory loss, after it’s been detected and tied to diabetes, be treated? Once it’s there, there’s non-reversible memory loss. And if it’s coming from the prolonged toxic effects of diabetes, it’s unlikely that you can reverse the damage that’s been done. But you can slow that progression by controlling the blood sugar.

For more information:

Study on Diabetes and Memory Loss

Diabetes in Midlife Tied to Memory Problems Late in Life 

Diabetes in Middle Age May Cause Memory Problems 

Diabetes and Memory Loss 

Diabetes: Definition and Diseases 

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.