Young People With Diabetes Show Early Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease

People who develop diabetes in youth may face a significantly increased risk of later suffering from cognitive issues such as Alzheimer’s disease, new research has found.

Young people with youth-onset diabetes, including type 1 and type 2, may be more likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) later in life.

Previous research has shown that adults with diabetes have a much higher chance of developing neurodegenerative diseases as time goes on, including dementia and potentially AD. But this new study, published in Endocrines, focused on the risks faced by young people with diabetes for the first time — and found a similar link.

Conducted by researchers in the Lifecourse Epidemiology of Adiposity and Diabetes (LEAD) Center at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, the study found specific blood biomarkers that suggest early signs of neurodegeneration in young people with diabetes.

Researchers looked at 80 different people for the study, some of whom had type 1 diabetes, some of whom had type 2, and others who did not have diabetes.

They looked for blood biomarkers and analyzed PET scans to find evidence of neurodegenerative disease in young adults with diabetes, finding higher blood biomarkers of AD as well as an accumulation of amyloid proteins in areas of the brain where the disease occurs, in youth with diabetes.

“We are not saying these people have AD or have cognitive impairment,” said the study’s lead author Allison Shapiro, PhD, MPH, assistant professor of pediatrics and endocrinology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, in a news release. “We are saying that this trajectory is concerning.”

It’s particularly concerning considering the rise in obesity and subsequent diabetes diagnoses among young people in the United States, she said. Obesity is considered a major risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate of new cases of diabetes in youths younger than 20 years increased between 2002 and 2015, with a 4.8% increase per year for type 2 diabetes and a 1.9% increase per year for type 1 diabetes.

The study authors say their findings show that while Alzheimer’s mostly impacts older adults, factors that occur early in life may also have an impact on whether someone develops the disease later on.

Cognitive testing is slowly becoming a part of the regular care provided to adults with diabetes, and the authors suggest that it should be considered for youth with diabetes, too.

Next, the researchers are hoping to secure funding to continue research with this same study group as they age to better understand the risks they may face.

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