Type 2 diabetes accelerates brain ageing and cognitive decline, new study finds

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  • A study assessed how type 2 diabetes affects brain ageing and function.
  • The researchers examined data and brain scans of almost 20 000 people.
  • People with the disease experience brain ageing and function decline at a more rapid rate.

A new study shows that diabetes speeds up the normal brain ageing process, and that diabetes over a longer period is linked to increased neurodegeneration.

The study published in eLife evaluated the relationship between normal brain ageing and the brains of people with type 2 diabetes. The study also assessed the cognitive function of people with the disease and compared them to people without diabetes.

The researchers collected data from UK Biobank of almost 20 000 people aged 50 to 80 years who were either healthy or had a type 2 diabetes diagnosis. The data included brain function measurements and brain scan details.

A decline in brain function

The study found that the brains of people with type 2 diabetes age 26% faster than those who do not have the disease. Researchers observed that the brain scans of diabetic people showed decreased grey matter, especially in the ventral striatum region, which is responsible for learning, decision-making, goal-directed behaviour, and cognitive control.

“Our findings suggest that type 2 diabetes and its progression may be associated with accelerated brain ageing, potentially due to compromised energy availability causing significant changes to brain structure and function,” said author Lilianne Mujica-Parodi in a press statement.

The research also shows that type 2 diabetes-related brain function decline overlaps the brain decline that comes with normal ageing. Furthermore, the findings show that by the time people are diagnosed with the disease, their brain is already affected.

“By the time diabetes is formally diagnosed, this damage may already have occurred. But brain imaging could provide a clinically valuable metric for identifying and monitoring these neurocognitive effects associated with diabetes. Our results underscore the need for research into brain-based biomarkers for type 2 diabetes and treatment strategies that specifically target its neurocognitive effects,” explains Mujica-Parodi. 

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