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Type 2 diabetes linked to worse performance on cognitive testing
February 24, 2015, 4:14 pm

A recent study by the University of Waterloo, Ontario examined the link between type 2 diabetes and a reduction of certain cognitive abilities, known as executive functions. The study found that executive functions inhibit habitual thinking patterns, knee-jerk emotional reactions and reflexive behaviors such as making impulse purchases or automatically following social cues.

Researchers reviewed 60 studies comparing 9,815 individuals with type 2 diabetes to 69,254 controls without it and examined their performance on measures of executive function.

Health professionals encourage individuals with type 2 diabetes to consistently monitor their dietary choices, check their blood sugar and adhere to medication schedules. But, says Professor Peter Hall, of the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences at Waterloo, "The types of behaviors that are recommended to help individuals control type 2 diabetes are all things that do not come naturally to most people.  Human beings have fairly reliable preferences for high-calorie foods and to resist medical routines that are inconvenient or time-consuming."

Many individuals with type 2 diabetes experience burnout in managing their disease. The inability to self-manage the condition is often a source of concern among family members, physicians and even the patients themselves. "The problem is the fact that effective diabetes management relies pretty heavily on executive function," said Professor Hall. "Essentially people with Type 2 diabetes may be hit with the double whammy of having more need for executive control, but -- possibly because of the disease's effect on the brain -- less intact resources for exerting it."

Recent studies suggest that older adults in particular can improve their executive function by engaging in cognitively stimulating activities and staying physically active. This has been shown to help strengthen the area of the brain responsible for self-control. Seniors make up the largest demographic of patients with type 2 diabetes.

Approximately 600 million people live with type 2 diabetes worldwide, with nearly 800 million cases expected by 2030, making it one of the greatest global health concerns of modern times. More than 2 million Canadians currently live with type 2 diabetes.

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