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Blood sugar not linked to memory loss

4th October 2011

Strict blood sugar control does not slow memory loss in older people with diabetes, according to a recent US study.

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The researchers showed that, while aggressive blood sugar control seemed to preserve brain volume in people, memory did not seem to depend upon brain volume.

Jeff Williamson, a researcher at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Centre in the US, who worked on the study, said while researchers knew that older diabetics had a much higher dementia and memory loss risk than people without diabetes, they did not actually know whether or not intensively controlling blood sugar levels resulted in a slowed rate of memory loss.

People with type 2 diabetes over the age of 70 are usually twice as likely as other people their age to develop memory problems.

For the study, the researchers assigned two groups of diabetics to different treatment strategies.

One group followed the standard treatment strategy, which aims to give patients blood levels of haemoglobin A1c between 7% and 7.9%.

Another group was given the intensive treatment strategy, in which researchers attempted to limit their blood levels to 6% A1c, which is about average among non-diabetics.

Early in 2008, researchers connected to the recent study were forced to terminate a large trial of type 2 diabetics earlier than planned when it became obvious that there were more deaths among those who got intensive treatment than among those receiving standard treatment.

The study also did not show any benefit to the heart in receiving intensive blood sugar treatment.

In the recent study, all study subjects were between the ages of 55 and 80, and all of them were calculated to have a high risk of heart disease and high blood glucose levels.

About 600 of the patients had a brain scan using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure brain volume at the start and the end of the study.

After the study had been running for 40 months, the people who were assigned to intensive blood-glucose readjustments had significantly retained total brain volume (TBV), compared to people who were on the standard treatment regime.

However, when the researchers compared the two groups using the Digit Symbol Substitution Test (DSST), they could not find any difference in cognition.

Williamson said it was still not clear whether or not the brain would eventually make use of its increased volume.

He said that, however, intensive treatment also carried the risk of heart problems and death, and that people who had diabetes should focus on diet and exercise.

He added that the current study was a warning to people who believed that medicine would rescue them from the consequences of poor diet and lack of exercise.

One expert felt that the finding was not conclusive regarding the role of TBV and dementia.

Geert Jan Biessels, a neurologist with the Rudolf Magnus Institute of Neuroscience at the University Medical Center in Utrecht, said that the study had not proven that intensive treatment would not delay dementia.



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