Diabetes and High Blood Pressure Can Cause Brain Damage in Middle Age

Mar 20, 2014 07:49 AM EDT | By Staff Writer

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Diabetes and high blood pressure can be serious health risks-and can be developed at almost any age. Now, though, researchers have found that when you develop type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure may impact your brain. They've discovered that those who develop these conditions in middle age are much more likely to suffer brain damage, which can continue to dementia as they grow older.

In order to better assess how type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure might affect a person's brain, the researchers conducted MRI brain scans on volunteers with an average age of 80. At most, the study participants had mild cognitive impairment.

"People who had diabetes earlier in life had much worse brain [structure] than those who had it later in life," said Rosebud Roberts, one of the researchers, in an interview with WebMD. "These scans are showing us that cognitive impairment happens over a long period of time. The earlier you develop type 2 diabetes, the more likely you are to have damage."

While the researchers found that those who developed diabetes in their midlife had more brain effects, those who developed diabetes in late life also had some brain effects, though they were less pronounced, according to MedScape.

In all, the researchers found that those who developed diabetes in middle age had a 2.9 percent smaller total brain volume and a 4 percent smaller volume in the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain associated with memory, according to Medical News Today. Those who developed diabetes in middle age were also twice as likely to have memory and thinking problems as those without diabetes.

"If you've got a brain, you're at risk for dementia," said Keith Fargo, one of the researchers, in an interview with WebMD. "Midlife is really going to be a critical time for people to focus on their brain health, and not wait until it's too late."

The findings reveal how crucial it is to pay attention to your health throughout your life. More specifically, it points out how crucial it is to manage both diabetes and high blood pressure.

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