Memory Loss (Amnesia)
Diabetes and memory loss are closely linked, and poorly controlled diabetes can cause memory loss. The brain runs on glucose and brain glucose storage is limited.
To maintain normal brain functioning, people with diabetes need a constant supply of glucose from their blood.
Memory loss and reduced brain functioning can occur during periods of low blood glucose (hypoglycemia) and high blood glucose (hyperglycemia) can affect memory over the longer term for people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
What are the symptoms of memory loss?
Symptoms of memory loss could include:
- Not being able to recall an important event in your life
- Forgetting what you have just done
- Forgetting where things in your home are
- Forgetting the names of people close to you
Some of these may happen to all of us from time to time but if they are happening more often than normal or are causing difficulties, it could be a sign of a more serious problem.
What are possible causes of memory loss in people with diabetes?
Memory loss may caused or exacerbated by any of the following:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Head injuries or concussion
- Stroke or a transient ischaemic attack (mini-stroke)
- Underactive thyroid
- Thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency
- Traumatic events causing psychogenic amnesia
- Usage of certain medications - such as sedatives or medicine for Parkinson’s disease
- Alcohol misuse
- High blood glucose levels over a long period of time
Memory loss tends to become more prevalent as we get older. The NHS notes that around 4 in 10 people over 65 have some form of memory difficulties.
How does diabetes affect memory loss?
Uncontrolled diabetes may increase the risks of suffering memory loss. Higher than normal blood glucose levels are known to damage the nerves and the brain is not immune to these effects.
Type 2 diabetes carries a risk of Alzheimer’s disease that is twice as high for non-diabetic individuals. The risk is higher when diabetes is less well controlled, so keeping good diabetes management may help to prevent Alzheimer’s from developing.
In the short term, hyperglycemia has been shown to reduce cognitive function (our ability to think) and this can include a reduced ability
Hypoglycemia and memory loss
Hypoglycemia is the state of having lower than blood glucose levels. When blood sugar levels are low, the brain lacks the glucose it needs to function correctly and this can result in loss of memory as well as other short term impairments in thinking.
Researchers have studied the effects of severe hypoglycemia on memory but have yet to find solid evidence that hypoglycemia has negative effects on memory in the long term.
Treating memory loss
Treatment for memory loss depends on the underlying cause. A number of treatments exist for Alzheimer’s, depression, stress and other causes of memory loss. Treatment may range from medication, through to lifestyle changes and talking or mindfulness therapies.
Coping with memory loss
If you are struggling to remember things on a daily basis, there are some practical tips that can help.
- Have a notepad and pen to hand to take notes of useful information –this can be very useful for telephone conversations
- Make to do lists of tasks that completing
- Keep an updated calendar
- Set alarms to remind you to take tablets, injections or blood tests
- Keep regularly used items such as blood glucose testing kit, glasses and keys in one designated place
How can I avoid memory loss?
Good diabetes management is recommended to help prevent memory problems as well as to help your health in general.
Following a healthy diet, taking regular exercise and managing stress can all be helpful for the body and the mind.
What is the link between stress, diabetes and memory loss?
Cortisol, an essential hormone in the body, has been linked with type 2 diabetes, and can also affect memory function. Higher and prolonged levels of cortisol in the bloodstream can affect the brain and cause memory loss.
The NHS notes that there are no quick fixes to tackling stress but a number of techniques can help to reduce stress, such as talking therapies, taking part in exercise and taking part in mindfulness courses.
How exactly does diabetes affect the brain and cause memory loss?
The blood-brain barrier regulates the transport of nutrients, including glucose, into the brain. These nutrients leave the brain as chemically charged particles and by-products of the brain metabolising.
If insufficient blood glucose, or too much blood glucose, reaches the blood-brain barrier, memory loss may develop.
The brain has a high metabolic rate and requirement for constant sugar. This fuels neurotransmission, which affects learning and memory.
A lapse in the system causes a reduction in the ability to remember things.
In cases of uncontrolled diabetes, prolonged high or low blood glucose levels make the hippocampus malfunction, which may influence concentration, attention, memory and information processing.
- Read more on diabetes and the brain