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Diabetics more likely to lose mental agility

Middle-aged people with diabetes and high blood pressure are more likely to lose mental agility than their healthy counterparts, according to a study in a recent Neurology, the scientific journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

The study examined 10,963 people ages 47 to 70 from four sites around the country. Their mental abilities were tested and then compared six years later. The average scores for all participants declined over the six-year study period. Though modest, the difference between the average scores and those with diabetes and hypertension was statistically significant.

"It probably wasn't even enough for the participants to notice any change in their mental abilities," said study author and neurologist Dr. David Knopman, then at the University of Minnesota and now with the Mayo Clinic. "But it shows that diabetes and high blood pressure start affecting cognitive abilities as early as late middle-age. If these diseases can be treated early — before age 60 — it might lessen the burden of cognitive problems later in life."

The study found no association between smoking, high cholesterol or use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and cognitive decline.