NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A substantial amount of the disability many older adults with diabetes experience is related to poor function in the nerves controlling sensation and movement in the legs, new research shows.
This type of nerve damage, also referred to as "peripheral neuropathy," can be responsible for disability in older people without diabetes as well, lead researcher Dr. Elsa S. Strotmeyer of the University of Pittsburgh, told Reuters Health.
She and her colleagues found a direct and independent relationship between function of the sensory and motor nerves in the legs and feet of elderly people as well as walking speed, balance, and other measures of physical ability.
More than one quarter of adults in their 70s have some loss of sensation in their feet, Strotmeyer and her team note in their study, published in the journal Diabetes Care. To investigate the relationship between nerve function in the extremities and physical function, they looked at 2,364 men and women between 73 and 82 years old, 20.4 percent of whom had diabetes.
Diabetic individuals had more disability than people without diabetes, the researchers found, and the subjects with more severe diabetes had even worse physical function. Statistical analyses determined that worse peripheral nerve function was largely responsible for poor physical performance, in the subjects with diabetes and those without the condition.
People with diabetes can prevent peripheral nerve damage by keeping their blood glucose under control, the researcher noted in an interview.
Strotmeyer and others are now investigating if common conditions of older adults, such as low levels of vitamin B12, high cholesterol, or mild blood vessel disease might also be related to peripheral nerve dysfunction. However the "jury's still out on whether treating such conditions could prevent poor nerve function.
SOURCE: Diabetes Care, September 2008.
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|Date last updated: 09 September 2008