Type 2 diabetes in older people can lead to increased memory loss and verbal fluency, but this is not directly associated with cognitive decline, researchers have said.
The findings have highlighted the need for lifestyle interventions to prevent brain problems in people with type 2 diabetes before they become older.
The Australian study involved more than 700 people who were aged between 55-90 years.
Previous research has found evidence to suggest that dementia and type 2 diabetes are linked, so teams from the University of Tasmania and the Monash University in Melbourne wanted to investigate further.
There were 348 participants who had type 2 diabetes and 357 who did not have the condition. They all underwent an MRI of the brain which measured its function or any changes within the brain tissue.
Age, gender, education and vascular risk factors, such as smoking, previous heart attacks, stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and body mass index (BMI) were all taken into account.
They found evidence that brain atrophy – which means a loss of neurons and connections between them – had already begun.
However, while verbal memory and verbal fluency were more likely to deteriorate in those with type 2 diabetes, there was no evidence of greater brain atrophy between those with and without diabetes during the study.
The authors said: “In older community-dwelling people, type 2 diabetes is associated with a decline in verbal memory and fluency over approximately 5 years, but the effect of diabetes on brain atrophy may begin earlier, for example in midlife, given the evidence of greater brain atrophy in people with T2D at the start of the study.
“If this is the case, both pharmacological and lifestyle interventions to prevent brain atrophy in people with T2D may need to commence before older age.”
The findings have been published in the journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes, otherwise known as Diabetologia.
Editor’s note: Keeping blood glucose levels within a normal range can help to reduce the risk of complications developing in older age, and eating a healthy, real-food diet and getting regular exercise can help to maintain healthy blood glucose ranges.

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