Diabetes has long been considered as one of the main causes of blindness in people, but according to new research conducted by the Harvard Medical School, the disease could be linked to a decline in memory skills as well.
In a study featured in the journal Neurology, Harvard scientists examined the medical data of 40 individuals, with 66 years old as their average age. Among the total number of study participants, 19 have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, while 21 of them did not have the disease.
Participants with type 2 diabetes have received treatment for their condition for around 13 years.
The researchers also tested the brain function of each individual at the start of the research and repeated the test in two years to find out if it had changed over time.
They conducted magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) on the participants' brain to observe its blood flow and volume, and they carried out blood tests to determine their blood sugar levels and inflammation. The patients were also asked to participate in memory and cognitions tests.
After the series of tests, the researchers discovered that participants with type 2 diabetes suffered more negative changes in the function of their brain during the course of two years compared to those who did not have the debilitating condition.
Dr. Vera Novak, a researcher at the Harvard Medical School and lead author of the study, explained that the normal regulation of blood flow allows a person's brain to deliver blood to regions that are conducting more tasks than others.
Novak said that patients suffering from diabetes have the regulation of blood flow impaired. The latest study shows that having diabetes or high levels of blood sugar causes the body to experience a lingering negative effect on its cognitive and decision-making ability.
According to the findings, type 2 diabetics scored noticeably lower on a number of their test for thinking skills and memory.
Those who were not able to control blood flow as much as others at the start of the research also experienced significant declines in their ability to complete daily tasks, such as cooking and bathing, compared to the rest of the study participants.
Alzheimer's Research UK's Dr. Laura Phipps, commenting on the findings, said that further research is needed in order to explore the potential connections between dementia and type 2 diabetes.
She said that the new study was not able to investigate the relationship between a higher risk of dementia and diabetes but instead focused on the decline in memory of people without dementia.
"We know that inflammation is being implicated in diseases like Alzheimer's, and while it's interesting to see it may also impact on the brain's ability to divert blood flow, it's hard to separate cause and effect in this kind of research," Phipps said.
"Studies involving more people, tested over longer periods of time, will be needed before a clearer picture can emerge."
The findings of the Harvard Medical School study are published in the journal Neurology.
Photo: DJ | Flickr