A new study has found a link between Type II diabetes and worse performance on cognitive tests measuring abilities involved in the control of emotions, behaviors and thought.
Researchers at the University of Waterloo in Canada conducted a statistical summary of available studies that examine the link between type II diabetes and a reduction in certain cognitive abilities, known as executive function.
Executive functions inhibit habitual thinking patterns, knee-jerk emotional reactions, and reflexive behaviors, such as making impulse purchases or automatically following social cues, researchers explained.
The researchers reviewed 60 studies comparing 9,815 people with type II diabetes to 69,254 people without it, specifically examining their performance on measures of executive function.
“This facet of brain function is particularly important because we rely on it when we are attempting to behave in a way that is contrary to our natural inclinations or what the environment impels us to do,” said Corrie Vincent, a graduate student in the School of Public Health and Health Systems at Waterloo, and lead author on the study.
“The types of behaviors that are recommended to help individuals control type II diabetes are all things that do not come naturally to most people,” said Professor Peter Hall of the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences at Waterloo, and senior author on the study.
He noted that health professionals encourage those with the disease to monitor their diets, check their blood sugar regularly and take their medication on schedule.
“Human beings have fairly reliable preferences for high-calorie foods and to resist medical routines that are inconvenient or time-consuming,” he noted.
Many with type II diabetes experience burnout in managing their disease, he continued. This inability to self-manage the disease is often a source of concern among family members, physicians, and the patients themselves.
“The problem is the fact that effective diabetes management relies pretty heavily on executive function,” said Hall. “Essentially people with Type II 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 strengthen the area of the brain responsible for self-control by engaging in cognitively stimulating activities and staying physically active, the researchers said.
“Fortunately, there are a few things that can help optimize the brain structures that support executive function,” said Hall.
“Aerobic exercise and cognitively challenging activities, such as learning new things, solving difficult puzzles and other problem solving activities, all help to keep your brain sharp. Aerobic exercise is probably the most important, however, because it has benefits to both the brain and the rest of the body simultaneously.”
The study appeared in Psychosomatic Medicine.
Source: University of Waterloo