Hope in di­a­betic find­ings

The Sunday Times - - NEWS - REGINA TITELIUS Health Re­porter

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.”

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