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Stress affects brain function in older people with Type 2 diabetes

According to research from Edinburgh University, stress increases the risk of memory loss and cognitive decline in older people with Type 2 diabetes.

Analysing 900 men and women aged between 60 and 75 with Type 2 diabetes, the study found brain function slowed down in those who had higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their blood.

Memory problems

Memory loss is a recognised symptom among older people with diabetes but until now there was little evidence as to why.

“We know that Type 2 diabetes is linked to problems with memory, but the reason behind this is unclear,” said study author Dr Rebecca Reynolds.

"This study shows that older people with diabetes who have higher levels of stress hormones in their blood are more likely to have experienced cognitive decline.

"It may be that by regulating cortisol levels, we could help improve cognitive decline in patients with Type 2 diabetes,” she said.

Research is part of larger study

The research, published by the journal ‘Diabetes Care’, is part of the Edinburgh Type 2 Diabetes Study, set up four years ago to better understand why people with diabetes may have memory problems.

Scientists evaluated mental abilities with a range of tests, which included looking at memory and assessing how quickly participants processed information. They compared this with general intelligence levels, using vocabulary tests, to work out whether brain function in participants had diminished over time. Factors such as education, cardiovascular disease, smoking and mood were also taken into account.

The researchers, who have been funded by the Medical Research Council, will now look at other factors which may also impact on memory problems.

A step forward in understanding

In response to the study, Dr. Iain Frame, Director of Research at Diabetes UK, said: “This research is certainly a step forward in the area of cognitive decline among older people with Type 2 diabetes, although it is difficult to say how big that step is.

“There really needs to be further research into the causal links and then, only if one is found, can we start looking into modifying treatments to help people with Type 2 diabetes.”

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