The Sunday Times
Hope in diabetic findings
TYPE 2 diabetes is linked to damage in a part of the brain that controls memory and learning abilities, researchers in WA have discovered.
The University of Western Australia research team found the brain’s right hippocampus, which is involved in memory and learning, was smaller in people with type 2 diabetes.
The four-year study could help the 1.5 million Australians with the disease who have increased risk of developing dementia.
Diabetes is regarded as the world’s fastest-growing chronic condition and 28 people are diagnosed with diabetes each day in WA — more than one an hour.
UWA PhD graduate and registered psychologist Dr Nicole Milne said MRI brain scans of 120 people with longterm type 2 diabetes showed that when there was a difference in right and left hippocampi, it was the right side that was often smaller.
“What this suggests is that in type 2 diabetes, this area of the brain is more vulnerable to damage, resulting in significantly poorer cognitive functioning,” Dr Milne said.
She said people with a smaller right hippocampus had poorer memory and problemsolving abilities, and slower thinking performance.
The study also found a “clinically significant” decline in participants’ judgment, problem solving and overall thinking skills over 18 months.
Professor Romola Bucks, of UWA’s school of psychological science, said the medium-term study did not show a decline in memory abilities.
She said further research was needed to determine whether people with the smaller right hippocampus were the ones whose cognitive skills, including memory, declined the most.
She said the research should serve as a reminder to type 2 diabetics of the importance of avoiding significant variations in blood sugar levels.
The hippocampus was a “very vulnerable brain spot” and therefore was most at risk of damage, she said.
Professor Bucks said once more research could determine stronger links, an option for diabetics may be to have MRI scans to flag vulnerability to cognitive problems.
“As a preventative measure, people with type 2 diabetes should aim to regulate their blood sugar levels, avoid the peaks and troughs in order to keep your brain healthy,” she said. “The more research we’re doing, the clearer it’s becoming that having many high blood sugar events doesn’t just mean you might have a bad day, but it might have long-term consequences in the future when it comes to your work and your home life.”