Diabetes speeds brain aging, study shows

It's already well known that diabetes can lead to other health problems that can accelerate aging. Now, a study from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health has found the condition can also cause the brain to age more quickly and process information more slowly. 

The researchers examined the results of cognitive assessments, MRIs and physical exams conducted on 97 people with type 1 diabetes and 81 people without the disorder. What they found was startling: 33 percent of the subjects with type 1 diabetes showed signs of "moderate to severe" hyperintensities in their white matter, which are associated with brain damage, neurological disorders and aging. Only 7 percent of the non-diabetic subjects showed equivalent levels of hyperintensities. 

The cognitive tests also found that the mental acuity of type 1 diabetics suffered from these brain abnormalities. The diabetic group averaged much lower scores on tests of mental processing speed, manual dexterity and verbal intelligence than the control group. 

"People with type 1 diabetes are living longer than ever before, and the incidence of type 1 diabetes is increasing annually. We must learn more about the impact of this disease as patients age. Long-term studies are needed to better detect potential issues and determine what interventions may reduce or prevent accelerated brain aging and cognitive decline," said lead author Karen Nunley of Pitt Public Health. 

The researchers encourage physicians to screen their patients who have type 1 diabetes for cognitive issues, since if these issues progress, it can lead to problems managing their diabetes symptoms.

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