Diabetes in middle age can “age the mind” by five years, potentially hastening the onset of dementia in later life, a new study has shown.
More than three million people in the UK are living with diabetes and there is mounting evidence that the illness is linked to memory and thinking problems in old age.
In a new analysis of health data from nearly 16,000 people in the USA, who have been followed up since the 1980s, researchers saw direct links between the condition and cognitive decline.
They found that, on average, a 60-year-old with diabetes experienced a decline in their brain function that was on par with a 65-year-old without diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes, the most common form, is closely linked to being overweight or obese, and maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly are among the best ways to prevent the illness.
The authors of the study, from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Maryland, said that their research proved “that to have a healthy brain when you’re 70, you need to eat right when you’re 50.”
Their findings, published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, add to mounting evidence that a number of physical health conditions increase a person’s risk of developing dementia.
People with diabetes have trouble regulating levels of sugar in their blood. This can cause damage to the veins, including those in the brain – an effect which may explain diabetes’ link with dementia.
Dr Laura Phipps of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “This study adds to a large body of evidence linking diabetes to thinking and memory problems in later life, and suggests that controlling blood sugar levels in midlife may also have long-term benefits for our brain health.
“Evidence suggests we can lower our risk of dementia by keeping healthy: eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, not smoking, and keeping blood pressure and weight in check.”