5.18.2004

Is monitoring your memory over time important?
Changes in Speed of processing and Monitoring over time are key factors in detecting conditions like Alzheimer's, according to a recent study supported by the National Institute on Aging, in this case, subjects with diabetes were found to have a 65% greater risk of developing Alzheimer's.


Diabetes mellitus was linked to a 65 percent increased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease (AD), appearing to affect some aspects of cognitive function differently than others in a new study supported by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) at the National Institutes of Health. The findings, from the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center's Religious Orders Study, add to a developing body of research examining a possible link between diabetes and cognitive decline. The results reported today are among the first to examine how certain cognitive "systems" – memory for words and events, the speed of processing information, and the ability to recognize spatial patterns -- may be affected selectively in people with diabetes.

The research, by Zoe Arvanitakis, M.D., David Bennett, M.D., and colleagues at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, IL, appears in the May 2004 issue of the Archives of Neurology. The investigators are part of the institution's Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center, headed by Dr. Bennett. The AD Center is one of 30 across the U.S. supported by the NIA to study and care for Alzheimer's patients.

"The research on a possible link between diabetes and increased risk of AD is intriguing, and this study gives us important additional insights," says Neil Buckholtz, Ph.D., head of the Dementias of Aging Branch in the NIA's neurosciences program. "Further research, some currently underway, will tell us whether therapies for diabetes may in fact play a role in lowering risk of AD or cognitive decline."

Some 824 Catholic nuns, priests, and brothers participating in the Religious Orders Study were followed for an average of 5.5 years. They received detailed clinical evaluations annually, including neuropsychological testing of five cognitive "systems" commonly affected by aging, AD, and other dementias – episodic memory (memory of specific life events), semantic memory (general knowledge), working memory (ability to hold and mentally rearrange information), perceptual speed (the speed with which simple perceptual comparisons can be made, such as whether two strings of numbers are the same or different), and visuospatial ability (the ability to recognize spatial patterns). Over the study period, 151 of the participants had a clinical diagnosis of AD, including 31 who had diabetes. The researchers found a 65 percent increase in the risk of developing AD among those with diabetes compared with people who did not have diabetes.

In measures of cognitive function, only in the area of perceptual speed was there an association with an increased rate of decline over time, by about 44%, when comparing the diabetes and non-diabetes groups. Since stroke-related changes in the brain were found in a previous study to be tied to a decline in perceptual speed, the researchers could not say whether the link between cognitive decline and diabetes appeared because of the changes in the brain associated with Alzheimer's disease or those of some other common age-related condition like stroke or other vascular complications. Studies looking at pathological or brain imaging data would be needed to address these possibilities.




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