People who are diagnosed with diabetes in childhood or adolescence may be more at risk of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, according to findings from new research.

Researchers studied a group of young people with youth-onset diabetes, including both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, and discovered specific blood biomarkers which indicate the early signs of neurodegeneration and Alzheimer’s disease.
The researchers say the findings highlight how cognitive testing is vital for those with diabetes.

They also say it is cause for concern in light of growing rates of obesity among young people, a condition that can contribute to type 2 diabetes.

Lead author Allison Shapiro, assistant professor of paediatrics and endocrinology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, said: “Preliminary evidence shows that preclinical Alzheimer’s disease neuropathology is present in young people with youth-onset diabetes.

These preliminary data suggest the potential for an early-onset Alzheimer’s disease risk trajectory in people diagnosed with diabetes in childhood or adolescence.

“We are about to enter into a different world of health care because of the obesity epidemic in young people. Young people are catching up with adults. We are now seeing more aging-related diseases in young people.

“We are not saying these people have Alzheimer’s disease or have cognitive impairment. We are saying that this trajectory is concerning.”

Studies looking at the link between Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes tend to concentrate on people aged 40 and older, a demographic which has a 60-80% higher risk of developing dementia – and possibly Alzheimer’s disease – in comparison to people of the same age who do not have diabetes.

This latest research looked at a younger age group. The team examined blood biomarkers and PET scans from 80 people to look for signs of neurodegenerative disease. The group was made up of people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, as well as individuals without the condition.

Along with raised blood biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease, the research team also found those with youth-onset diabetes showed elevated accumulation of amyloid proteins in areas of the brain where Alzheimer’s disease occurs.

Assistant Professor Shapiro said the findings show while Alzheimer’s disease is often viewed as a condition affecting people in later life, early life factors may have a significant impact on the development of the condition.

She said: “The field of diabetes care is beginning to recognise the importance of cognitive testing as a part of clinical follow-up. And it should be something we consider in youth-onset diabetes as well.”

Read the full study in Endocrines.

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