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Decline in mental health from Diabetes begins at middle age

If you think Alzheimer disease is already bad enough, diabetes can also lead to a decline in memory, thinking speed, and mental flexibility in middle age. The good news, is according to new research from the Netherlands, control of the blood sugar disorder might prevent some of these effects.

In their study, Astrid Nooyens and colleagues at the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in the Netherlands examined the health records and mental acuity scores of more than 2,600 men and women between the ages of 45 and 70 who enrolled in a large ongoing study into lifestyle effects on health. Of the 139 participants with type 2 diabetes, 61 were diabetics at the beginning of the study and 78 developed the chronic disease within the next five years.

The Dutch study noted that while the mental decline may be invisible to the individual, the fact that the drop-off starts accumulating in middle age puts diabetes patients at greater risk later on because of reduced “brain reserves,” Dr. David Knopman, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, told Reuters Health.

While Knopman was not involved in the Dutch study, it did confirm the findings of earlier research, by Knopman and others, of an association between diabetes and declines in such mental functions as the ability to think quickly and recall words. This study should be noted as the first project to test memory and demonstrate how quickly the drop-off can occur.

In the given 5-year period, decline in overall mental functioning in people with type 2 diabetes, while small, was nearly three times more pronounced than among patients without diabetes. But even those who developed diabetes shortly after the study began saw twice as much of a decline as their nondiabetic counterparts.

In comparison to the so-called “healthy” participants, those who had long-term diabetes registered the sharpest declines in mental function. Those who developed diabetes during the trial saw less pronounced declines than their long-term counterparts in most areas with the exception of information processing, where they seemed to do a little better than the “healthy” participants.

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