by Clayton Masterman
It is easy to think of memory as a cognitive process, but like everything in our brain it depends on physiological processes to function. New research has revealed that diabetes can have physiological effects that are severely detrimental to memory. Diabetes comes in two forms, both of which have been linked with the degradation of mental processes. Type 1 diabetes occurs because the body fails to create enough insulin, and type 2 occurs because the body’s cells are unable to use the insulin correctly. Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas that helps cells absorb glucose and create energy. In diabetes blood sugar levels become too high and various complications arise.
Recent studies have shown that both types of diabetes are having an impact on cognitive abilities and memory. Sometimes a diabetic patient can experience diabetic ketoacidosis, which occurs when the body reaches a state where it burns fat for energy instead of sugar. This can have severe complications, the worst of which being a coma. According to a recent study children that have gone through diabetic ketoacidosis perform worse on memory tests than other children. This research was based on children with type 1 diabetes, but these results aren’t isolated to this form of the disease.
A study performed by Dr. Tali Cukierman-Yaffe found that diabetics are 1.5 times more likely to experience a decline in cognitive performance and 1.6 times more likely to experience dementia than individuals without diabetes. This is complicated by the fact that diabetes is an intensive disease to manage; patients must remain constantly vigilant. If a treatment cycle begins to get off course, things quickly get out of control.
The reason for these effects is not entirely understood. Several studies have examined the influence of other factors such as stress and determined that they increase the risk of mental decline in patients, but that they are not the sole cause. Other studies are pointing to cardiovascular damage caused by diabetes as a mechanism for cognitive decline, leading to a form of dementia similar to pure vascular dementia. (Biessels et al, 2005) Until the cause is confirmed and a treatment is developed, patients are left with little hope of a way to prevent these issues from occurring. The only real recommendation that exists is for patients to keep on their treatments to ensure that blood sugar levels remain at normal levels. New cases must be diagnosed immediately to make sure treatment begins as soon as possible. Hopefully soon we’ll confirm the cause of this problem and be able to combat it more effectively.
New York Times, “Diabetes Background”. Retrieved March 29, from
University of California – Davis (2009, October 19). Diabetic Episodes Affect Kids’ Memory. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 2, 2010, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2009/10/091019134718.htm
Tel Aviv University (2009, March 12). Diabetes Linked To Cognitive Deterioration. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 2, 2010, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2009/03/090305121659.htm
University of Edinburgh (2010, February 27). Stress raises risk of mental decline in older diabetics, study shows. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 2, 2010, from
Biessels, Geert Jan. Staekenbord, Salka. Brunner, Eric. Brayne, Carol. Scheltens, Philip. (2005). “Risk of dementia in diabetes mellitus: a systematic review”. The Lancet Neurology, Volume 5 (Issue 1). Pages 64-74.