Type 2 Diabetes May Lead to Short-Term Memory Loss

New Research from University of Houston Focuses on Cognitive, Sensory Impact of T2D

Type 2 diabetes, which has been found to impact dexterity and sensory function in the hands, may also impact the short-term memory of those living with the disease.

Stacey Gorniak is an assistant professor in the University of Houston Department of Health and Human Performance.  She studies the impact of changes in the brain due to chronic health conditions, movement disorders and aging. Currently, she is studying cognitive, sensory and motor changes of middle aged and older adults who control their type 2 diabetes with medication. 

“We’re seeing mild cognitive impairment, particularly in working memory, or short-term memory,” she said. “The tests we administered included visual spacial examinations, time orientation and delayed recall, which involved asking them to remember a list of words, immediately and then a few minutes after they heard the words.”

Additionally, when patients were asked to perform a simple activity with their hands—for example holding an object like a smartphone—and were asked to repeat a set of words while interacting with the object, patients with type 2 diabetes exhibited difficulty in recalling words and performing the activity.

Gorniak’s next step is to identify changes to brain structures that are involved in cognitive, sensory and motor functions.

“By better understanding both structural and functional brain changes with type 2 diabetes, clinicians will have a better idea of how to modify treatment plans to better accommodate the challenges faced by diabetic patients,” she said.

Another ongoing study she is pursuing is an examination of how the disease may affect the sense of touch. It builds on her previous work that found type 2 diabetes affected dexterity and sensory function in the hands.  As part of a new study, participants with and without the disease will be administered a light anesthetic to the wrist and elbow and be asked to perform a number of activities. She’s hoping to learn if the diminished tactile sensation brought on by type 2 diabetes impacts hand dexterity.

“We hope to better understand the obstacles that diabetic patients encounter in their daily lives, like difficulty in performing daily blood sugar monitoring as well as insulin injection,” Gorniak said. “It may also lead to trouble in more basic functions, such as bathing, grooming and feeding. Our hope is to work with clinicians to develop better self-management plans for patients living with type 2 diabetes.”

November is Diabetes Awareness Month.  For healthy tips to prevent T2D, visit http://www.uh.edu/news-events/stories/2014/November/115DiabetesAwarenessMonth.php