Diabetes Could Contribute to Memory Loss in Older Adults says Study

According to a new study, poorly controlled diabetes can lead some older adults to struggle with a condition that’s known as episodic memory –the ability to recall specific events experienced recently or long ago, a study suggests.

Researchers looked at results from a series of four memory tests conducted from 2006 to 2012 for 950 older adults with diabetes and 3,469 elderly people that did not have the disease.

Those with diabetes and elevated blood sugar performed worse on the first round of memory tests at the start of the study as well as experiencing a greater decline in memory function by the end of the study.

“We believe that the combination of diabetes and high blood sugar increases the chances of a number of health problems,” said lead study author Colleen Pappas, an Aging researcher at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

“Our study brings attention to the possibility that worsening memory may be one of them,” Pappas added by email.

The study did not study why this might occur, one possibility is that elevated blood sugar damages brain cells that transmit messages in memory part of the brain known as the hippocampus Pappas said.

Authors noted that another limitation is that researchers only checked A1c once, at the start of the study. Thus making it difficult to ascertain how shifts in blood sugar over time could alter changes in memory.

It was also noted that the research lacked data on medications people took to control blood sugar. This hinders the ability to assess whether memory lapses might be averted in patients who took medications designed to manage diabetes.

Blood Sugar and Memory

The findings did, however, suggest that healthily maintained blood sugar levels may help maintain memory performance over time, said Dr. Joe Verghese, director of the Montefiore-Einstein Center for the Aging Brain in New York.

“Patients with diabetes can experience several brain changes that develop over time such as shrinkage of areas involved in memory and thinking as well as damage to blood vessels supplying the brain,” Verghese, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email. “Higher blood sugar levels may be detrimental for brain health even in older adults who do not meet formal criteria for diabetes but are in the gray zone.”