Having Both Diabetes, Depression Can Speed Up Cognitive Decline

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • We’ve heard lots about how diabetes is linked to an increased risk for dementia. We’ve also heard about how depression is linked to an increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. But what about when a person has both diabetes and depression? A new study by researchers from the United States and Canada suggests that this combination can speed up cognitive decline.

    This study involved 2,977 participants in the Action to Control Cardiovascular Risk in Diabetes-Memory in Diabetes (ACCORD-MIND) trial. These participants, who were treated 52 clinics across the United States and Canada, had type 2 diabetes as well as a high risk for cardiovascular events.  They were 55 years of age and above. The researchers followed the participants for slightly more than three years.

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    As part of the study, the participants’ mental capacity was assessed using three different tests. These cognitive tests focused on remembering words over time, executive function, and responding to a stimulus. The participants also completed a Patient Health Questionnaire that helped researchers assess whether the participants had depression. These tests were administered at the start of the study, at the mid-point and at the end. 

    The researchers’ analysis found that 62 percent of the participants never had scores that indicated they had depression. However, 18 percent were depressed when the study started. Almost 17 percent reported being depressed between the midpoint and the end of the study. Five percent reported that they were depressed throughout the study’s duration.

    Participants who tended to be depressed at some point during the study were more often women, younger, non-Hispanic whites, overweight or obese. These participants also often had higher blood sugar, total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (which is the bad kind).

    The researchers’ analysis also determined that depression accelerated the cognitive decline in people who have diabetes over a short time frame. The researchers don’t know, however, whether treatment for depression will reverse this finding. Additional research studies need to be done to determine this.

    So why is this study important? Sheer numbers. For instance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pointed out that approximately 25 percent of Americans who are 65 years old and above have been diagnosed with diabetes. Furthermore, approximately 6.5 million Americans who are in this age group have depression.

    Depression is pretty insidious. The Mayo Clinic notes that there isn’t a sure-fire way to prevent it. However, controlling stress, increasing resilience and boosting low self-esteem is believed to help limit depression. Furthermore, having a network of caring family members and friends can help a person during difficult times. At the earliest sign of the problem, encouraging a loved one to seek treatment can help prevent depression from getting worse.

    So what should you watch for in a loved one who has diabetes? According to the Mayo Clinic, the symptoms of major depression include:

    • Feelings of sadness or unhappiness.
    • Irritability over matters, no matter how small.
    • Loss of interest in normal activities.
    • Reduced sex drive.
    • Insomnia.
    • Excessive sleeping.
    • Change sin appetite.
    • Agitation or restlessness.
    • Irritability.
    • Slower thinking, speaking or body movements.
    • Decreased concentration.
    • Indecisiveness.
    • Distractibility.
    • Fatigue.
    • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt.
    • Difficulty thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering.
    • Frequent thoughts of death, dying or suicide.
    • Crying spells.
    • Unexplained physical problems.

    Depression symptoms can really vary from person to person. Fortunately, getting the proper treatment (which can include medication, psychological counseling or other treatment) can help people who are depressed feel better. And long-term maintenance treatment can help prevent a relapse.

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    And obviously, it’s important to take control of lifestyle factors to avoid diabetes. These include diet, exercise and medications (if necessary).


    Being proactive in trying to control both diabetes and depression can impact your current life. These steps also may protect yoru brain from dementia and Alzheimer's disease.


    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

    Hackethal, V. (2013). Depression with diabetes may speed mental decline. MedlinePlus.

    Mayo Clinic. (2012). Depression (major depression).

    Sullivan, M. D., et al. (2013). Association of depression with accelerated cognitive decline among patients with type 2 diabetes in the ACCORD-MIND trial. JAMA Psychiatry.

Published On: August 27, 2013