Rising Blood Sugar Impairs Cognitive Function

February 18, 2009
Julia Ernst, MS

A new study has found that the cognitive abilities of individuals with type II diabetes decreases as blood sugar levels rise.

A new study has found that the cognitive abilities of individuals with type II diabetes decreases as blood sugar levels rise.

Researchers at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina have discovered an inverse relationship between A1C levels and the participants’ scores on four different cognitive tests. The Memory in Diabetes (MIND) study is an ongoing sub-study of the Action to Control Cardiovascular Risk in Diabetes Trial (ACCORD).

A 30-minute test was given at 52 of the 77 ACCORD sites in the US and Canada to nearly 3,000 participants, all of whom were 55 years old and above. The results showed that lower test scores correlated to a 1% increase in A1C levels, which was calculated over a 2-3 month period. Psychomotor speech, global cognitive function, memory, and multiple task management were some of the areas affected.

“The tests used in the study measured several aspects of memory function,” said Jeff Williamson, MD, MHS, lead investigator of the study. “For example, we tested one’s ability to switch back and forth between memory tasks or to ‘multitask,’ an important skill for people needing to manage their diabetes.”

Previous studies have shown that people with diabetes are one and a half times more likely to experience a decrease in mental ability and develop dementia than individuals without the illness.

The ACCORD-MIND study supports the idea that “the brain’s chronic exposure to elevated blood glucose levels may be part of the explanation for this phenomenon,” a press release from WFU Baptist Medical Center said. The ACCORD-MIND study is continuing to test the idea that decreasing A1C levels could result in better mental abilities. As research continues, Williamson offered some suggestions on how to make disease management a little easier.

“People with type 2 diabetes and their health care providers need to be careful in situations where there is education and teaching about diabetes care, as patients may need a little more time to absorb and process information,” Williamson said in the press release. “Patients also need to be open to having a family member periodically making sure they are keeping track of managing their diabetes through monitoring, diet, exercise and medication.”

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specialty: endocrinology