Scientists at John Hopkins University have found that having diabetes in midlife appears to age the mind about five years faster than usual.
Researchers drew data from the study published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine to Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study (ARIC) to follow about 15,800 middle aged adults in the United States. The researchers evaluated the cognitive function of the study subjects during three of the five visits carried out throughout the study. They also compared the amount of cognitive decline associated with aging to the amount observed in the study participants during those sessions.
They saw smaller declines for people with controlled diabetes and pre-diabetes and observed 19 percent increase in mental decline among those patients with poorly controlled diabetes.
The research is the longest to follow a cross-section of adults as they age according to study authors.
Diabetes, which is caused due to a lack of insulin in the body, leads to elevated sugar levels in the blood. This excess sugar levels can have an impact on the body’s vascular system and cause blindness, nerve damage and kidney disease. It has been found that being overweight is the single best predictor of type 2 diabetes, which accounts for 90 to 95 percent of diabetes cases. Researchers say that maintaining a healthy diet and exercising can offer protection against diabetes and thus mental decline.
“The lesson is that to have a healthy brain when you’re 70, you need to eat right and exercise when you’re 50,” study leader Elizabeth Selvin, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said in a news release. “There is a substantial cognitive decline associated with diabetes, pre-diabetes and poor glucose control in people with diabetes. And we know how to prevent or delay the diabetes associated with this decline.”
Research shows that it is also caused by cognitive impairment linked to abnormalities in brain blood vessels apart from being caused by Alzheimer’s disease.
“There are many ways we can reduce the impact of cerebral blood vessel disease— by prevention or control of diabetes and hypertension, reduction in smoking, increase in exercise and improvements in diet,” study author A. Richey Sharrett, an adjunct professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said in the news release. “Knowing that the risk for cognitive impairments begins with diabetes and other risk factors in mid-life can be a strong motivator for patients and their doctors to adopt and maintain long-term healthy practices.”
2010 estimates showed that dementia cost upwards of $159 billion annually nationwide according to the news release. Those costs are expected to increase by nearly 80 percent by 2040.
“If we can do a better job at preventing diabetes and controlling diabetes, we can prevent the progression to dementia for many people,” Selvin said. “Even delaying dementia by a few years could have a huge impact on the population, from quality of life to health care costs.”