Patients with diabetes who have foot complications may be at greater risk for cognitive impairment. This is the conclusion of a study by researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel.

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Researchers found diabetes patients with foot complications had poorer cognitive function than those without such complications.

Study coauthor Dr. Rachel Natovich, a Ben-Gurion University PhD graduate, and colleagues presented their findings at the American Diabetes Association’s 75th Scientific Sessions in Boston, MA, earlier this year.

One of the most severe complications of diabetes is “diabetic foot.” If not managed effectively, high blood sugar levels that occur with diabetes can cause nerve damage that results in loss of feeling in feet, meaning foot injuries such as cuts or blisters may go unnoticed. Such injuries can lead to ulcers and infections, and, in severe cases, amputation.

According to Dr. Natovich and colleagues, a person with diabetes has up to a 25% chance of developing a foot ulcer in their lifetime.

However, Dr. Natovich notes there has been no research looking into how diabetic foot affects cognitive functioning, “despite the fact that the micro- and macro-vascular changes underlying the diabetic foot are systemic, occurring in many different organs, including the brain.”

The team decided to address this research gap in their latest study, which involved 99 diabetes patients with diabetic foot.

The researchers assessed the cognitive abilities of these patients through a series of tests conducted before and after the development of diabetic foot, and such abilities were compared with those of diabetes patients without diabetic foot.

The cognitive abilities between the two groups were similar prior to developing diabetic foot, the researchers found.

However, patients who developed foot complications showed reduced concentration, poorer memory, learning problems, slower cognitive and psycho-motor responses, reduced inhibition and decreased verbal fluency than those who did not develop diabetic foot.

While previous research has associated diabetes with poorer cognitive function, these latest findings, according to the researchers, indicate that diabetic foot may exacerbate the problem.

Commenting on the implications of their research, Dr. Natovich says:

This study demonstrates that ‘diabetic foot’ refers not only to a physical condition but rather to a more generalized complex state involving significant cognitive changes as well.

This new information is an important contribution to health care of these patients due to their increased risk for medical complications and the unique challenge that they present to health care providers.”

Based on these results, Dr. Natovich recommends that physicians routinely assess individuals with diabetic foot for cognitive changes.

She says patients with diabetic foot may benefit from group treatment that aims to improve diabetes management, diet and exercise, as well as information about how foot complications from diabetes may impact cognitive function.

In addition, Dr. Natovich recommends that the health care providers and relatives of patients with diabetic foot take a more active role in their care.

Medical News Today recently reported on a study that identified certain coffee chemicals that could help prevent type 2 diabetes.