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Feb 11, 2014

Aggressive Treatment Doesn't Prevent Memory Loss in Patients with Diabetes

Strict blood pressure and cholesterol goals fail to prevent memory loss or decreased brain function in patients with type 2 diabetes, according to study.

On top of increasing risk for a number of serious heart complications, diabetes can also take a toll on brain function. For many patients with diabetes, memory loss and other declines in cognitive function are common, especially when blood pressure and cholesterol are poorly managed. But treating blood pressure and cholesterol aggressively is not the key to preventing memory loss, according to a recent study.

Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, this study tested the concept that low cholesterol and blood pressure levels may help protect patients with diabetes from a decline in brain function. We already know that poor management of blood pressure and cholesterol can speed up memory loss and researchers hoped that the opposite may be true, as well.

A total of 2,977 adults with type 2 diabetes participated in the study and were randomly chosen to receive “intensive” or “standard” treatment. Those in the intensive group had very strict goals for blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels, while those in the standard group had more conservative treatment goals. After monitoring the brain function of participants for about three years, researchers failed to find any major difference in the brain function in either group.

But authors emphasize that these findings don’t cancel out the importance of aggressive treatment goals in patients with diabetes. Using medication to control blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol is important for many patients with diabetes who are at high risk for heart disease. Closely managing these numbers can help prevent a number of complications, such as heart attack and stroke. But according to this study, it’s unlikely this type of aggressive treatment will prevent loss in brain function, which is why prevention is so important.

For most individuals, diabetes can be prevented through healthy lifestyle choices like a healthy diet and regular physical activity. By preventing diabetes, individuals can also prevent the many serious complications associated with this condition. And for patients already living with diabetes, taking similar steps to reduce risk of complications is just as important.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes?

  • Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body does not produce any insulin—a hormone that converts sugar into energy. This type of diabetes is often diagnosed in children and young adults and cannot be prevented. Type 2 diabetes, however, occurs when the body resists insulin or does not produce enough insulin, and can be prevented in some patients.
  • How can I prevent Type 2 diabetes?

  • Although exactly why some individuals develop Type 2 diabetes and some don’t, there are some known risk factors for this condition, like being overweight and inactive. There are also risk factors that can’t be controlled, such as family history, age and race.

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