Memory is a tricky thing for an adult or child with diabetes because high, low, and shifting blood sugar levels interfere with how we think and process information. When blood sugar is high or conversely too low, an adult or child will have a hard time recalling, retaining, or remembering information until their blood sugar levels return to normal. These cognitive problems can impact every aspect of life.
It still amazes me how important overall health is during childhood. Our minds develop during that period and everything from our environment to our physical health impact how healthy our minds will be in the future.
The Physical Impact
When high blood sugars impacted my ability to learn at school, oftentimes no one caught it and really didn’t know to look for it. I don’t blame anyone, except maybe myself at times. I knew enough to recognize the negative impacts of out-of-control blood sugars on how I felt physically. If I had heeded those warning signs growing up, I would have fewer problems as an adult living with diabetes.
At times it’s hard for me to believe, but continuous high and out-of-control blood sugars during childhood can cause permanent brain damage. I suppose I don’t want to believe this fact, but recent studies show that uncontrolled blood sugar will cause problems with intelligence, attention, processing speed, long-term memory, executive functions, and self-monitoring.
Wow, if I had only known that when I was growing up. As a trained diabetes-focused psychotherapist, it’s unavoidable and true.
The inabilities to concentrate and recall impact everyone with diabetes when blood sugar is high or conversely too low. Regardless of what type of diabetes you have, blood sugars will impact your ability to think. For me, I was able to see the impact throughout my childhood and adult life.
The Educational Impact
During the 1980’s, who would have known to even test for sugar levels before a school test or class, or even know to do that now unless someone pointed it out to him or her? So, for the next 3 to 4 years, I was tutored in English, reading, and writing as well as entering special education as a result of my unstable blood sugars.
So, I started my journey through Mr. Kotter’s classroom, as I called it (making reference to the special education class from “Welcome Back, Kotter,” a sitcom, which ran from 1975 to 1979). I was there because I was having trouble reading and writing. The sad part is that I was merely experiencing high blood sugar.
I did not excel in school due to fluctuating blood sugar. Unfortunately, for those 17 years of age and younger who have been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, damage to the part of the brain that controls the ability to retain and recall information is almost unavoidable. Proper control will reduce the physical damage, but for those of us who grew up with diabetes, some damage will occur regardless of control.
I say “unavoidable” because no one’s cognitive mind or external devices, like the pump, can mimic the autonomic functions of the pancreas and beta cells.
For everyone with diabetes, be kind to yourself. Don’t blame or call yourself dumb when you have forgetful moments. Chances are it’s not you, but the high, low and changing blood sugars that occur while living with diabetes.
So, what can we do? Several things, actually!
Keep on top of your diabetes. Monitor and adjust your blood sugar levels to ensure they regularly fall within normal ranges. There is no perfect control, so just do your best.
One option that can help you maintain control of your blood sugar levels is psychotherapy. Things like relationship issues, problems at work, dealing with financial stress and other life complications, tend to cause emotionally charged drama in our lives. This causes hormone imbalances that make managing diabetes very difficult. By resolving these issues in treatment, you tend to stabilize this imbalance and as a result you will have more positive energy to put towards managing your diabetes and creating success in life.
If you are having memory and recall issues, there are also medications that can help you improve in those areas. These can help rebalance the chemical equation in your mind.
Seek a psychotherapist or other mental health professional to discuss what the best options for you.
All the advice included in this blog is therapeutic in nature and should not be considered medical advice. Prior to making any changes to your diabetes maintenance program, please consult with your primary physician or endocrinologist.