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Can diabetes cause loss of memory? The answer and how researchers came to that conclusion can be best explained by examining the studies conducted on various groups of people over the past decade.
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Blood Glucose and Memory Loss in Diabetics
A study of a group of thirty middle-aged and older people that made news in 2003 conducted by New York University involved looking at how blood sugar levels affected memory. The conclusion was that because diabetes can restrict the blood flow to organs such as the brain, the ability of the brain to function properly (i.e. memory function) can be inhibited.
The researchers discovered that the more slowly a patient’s glucose metabolized, the worse the patient did with memory function. The researchers concluded this gave new motivation to people at risk for diabetes to manage their weight and begin exercising regularly in order to avoid the development of full-blown diabetes, with the possible complication of memory loss.
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Vascular Dementia and Alzheimers
Vascular dementia and Alzheimers can cause severe and debilitating loss of memory. Since the blood circulation is often affected in diabetes, the condition has been linked to vascular dementia. This occurs when certain parts of the brain shrink due to lack of blood circulation.
Several studies, including one conducted by Rush University in 2004, found links between diabetes and Alzheimer’s. In their study, 31 of the 151 patients who developed Alzheimer’s also had diabetes.A related study on mice showed that diabetes-related abnormalities in insulin could have an affect on tau. Tau is a protein that forms tangles in the brain cells of those with Alzheimer’s.
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Stress, Diabetes and Memory Loss
A study conducted by Edinburgh University involved stress, diabetes and memory loss. The study focused on 900 participants who were older (over age 60) and suffered from type 2 diabetes.
The findings showed that when the stress hormone called cortisol appeared in higher levels in the blood stream, it caused a slow-down in brain function. The theory that developed from the findings was that getting cortisol levels under control could potentially lead to avoiding or reducing memory loss caused by stress and diabetes. Though the study can only apply results and findings to older patients with diabetes, it can provide clues for all diabetics who suffer from memory loss.
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Memory Loss from Hypoglycemia
Hypoglycemia is a condition that occurs in diabetics when their blood glucose levels dip below normal. If left untreated, it can result in seizures, unconsciousness, coma or death. Symptoms of this condition include dizziness, confusion and memory loss. The memory loss is only temporary and ceases when the blood sugar levels return to normal.
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Can diabetes cause loss of memory? While the research studies cited above cannot conclusively prove a cause, they do point to possible causes and offer hope to those who experience memory loss with their diabetes. In the future, such studies could lead to ways for diabetics to avoid memory loss altogether.
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Stress Linked to Diabetes Memory Loss. BBC News. Page last updated February 22, 2010. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/scotland/edinburgh_and_east/8527160.stm
Study Links Memory Loss and Diabetes. Medical News Today. May 21, 2004. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/8552.php
Blood Sugar Linked to Memory Loss. Sue Chan. CBS News. February 3, 2003. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/02/03/health/main539213.shtml