Type 2 Diabetes and Cognitive Decline (Don't Freak Out!)

Oh man, did you know that having type 2 diabetes is associated with decreased cognitive function? And also dementia? And even Alzheimer’s? Before you freak out, though, let’s talk about what cognitive function is, how it’s impacted, and what you can do to help it.

Cognitive function is basically anything your brain does in order to acquire knowledge, and how you live in and perceive the world. It includes things like memory, reasoning, language, perception, and attention, among others.

Cognitive function is important because it touches every aspect of your life, from remembering a doctor’s appointment to learning a new skill for work to being able to name that red fruit with the stem that grows on the trees in your backyard. Some cognitive function decline can be expected as we age, but research has shown that those with type 2 diabetes are about one and a half times more likely to suffer from cognitive decline than those who do not.

In addition, another study showed that global cognitive function decline was 2.6 times greater than in individuals without diabetes after a five year time period. Type 2 diabetes is also linked with brain atrophy, dementia, and Alzheimer’s.

How to prevent cognitive decline?

Remember when I said don’t freak out? Okay, good. Keep reading.

There aren’t many proven ways to prevent the cognitive decline associated with type 2 diabetes, but one promising study was recently conducted by American Diabetes Association-funded researcher Laura D. Baker, Ph.D. Although the results of the study have not yet been published by a peer-reviewed journal, it appears that older adults with mild cognitive decline who also have prediabetes that participated in a supervised high-intensity aerobics can significantly improve cognitive function.

Yes, I know, the study was done on those with prediabetes, but pretty interesting, right? It appears that aerobic exercise as performed in the study increased blood flow to the areas of the brain responsible for memory and cognition, and even a participant who was 89 years old saw great improvement in cognitive function!

Obviously you should talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program, but once you’ve got the all-clear, exercise, specifically aerobic exercise, looks like it may be beneficial.

Another thing to keep in mind? One study found hyperglycemia (high blood glucose levels) may cause cognitive decline in some people with type 2 diabetes. What does that mean for you? Do all that you can do keep your glucose levels in the range your doctor has given you, which means taking your medication as prescribed, sticking to your meal plan, controlling stress, and, of course, keeping up with regular doctor visits.

There’s no way to know what the future will hold. The very best thing you can do for yourself right now is practice the best self-care possible. Sometimes that means turning down a dessert, sometimes it means going for a massage or taking a break.

Do what you can today to manage your blood sugar, exercise when you can, and try not to worry too much. Your brain will thank you.

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