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The first year after a person is diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a “critical window for intervention” if the individual has diabetes. That’s because diabetes accelerates the development of MCI to Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new study.

Authors of the report, which was published Wednesday in Alzheimer’s & Dementia, say the findings underscore the need for early interventions, especially during the critical window of a year.

To illustrate the importance of the one-year mark, a total of 8.82% of those with MCI and diabetes had Alzheimer’s a year after the study started. That compares with 2.45% of people with MCI who didn’t have diabetes. 

Investigators wanted to pinpoint the optimal time for interventions to ease the progression of MCI to Alzheimer’s. The team used a tool called the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative dataset to do so.

The team analyzed 980 people with MCI and categorized them based on their diabetes status. It then used a score to evaluate the rate at which MCI turned into Alzheimer’s. The team compared cognitive impairment progression in groups of people with and without diabetes so they could get a comparison, paying attention to brain imaging and biomarkers.

“Diabetes significantly correlates with cognitive decline and an increased risk of progressing to Alzheimer’s disease, especially within the first year of MCI follow-up,” the authors wrote. The team noted that diabetes adversely affects specific brain structures; specifically, it accelerates nucleus accumbens atrophy, and decreases gray matter volume and sulcal depth.

Diabetes also leads to sharper cognitive decline within 12 months of follow-up, study data showed. In other words, diabetes seems to be a trigger in the progression of MCI to Alzheimer’s disease, which could be the opportune time for clinicians to intervene.