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Diabetes, smoking linked to deposits in brain region tied to memory

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(Reuters Health) – People who smoke or have diabetes may be more likely to have calcium deposits in brain regions crucial for memory, a Dutch study suggests.

The deposits were not associated with lower cognitive function, however.

Researchers examined cognitive test results and brain scans for 1,991 patients visiting a memory clinic at a Dutch hospital from 2009 to 2015. Overall, 380 patients, or about 19 percent, had calcification, or abnormal buildup of calcium, in the hippocampus, the region of the brain important for short-term and long-term memory.

Diabetics and smokers were about 50 percent more likely to have calcification in this region of the brain than other participants in the study, the researchers note in Radiology.

The hippocampus is typically damaged in people who develop dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

“The hippocampus is an important area in the brain for memory storage, so we thought that calcifications in this area would be related with cognitive problems,” said lead study author Dr. Esther de Brouwer of the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands.

But in these volunteers, hippocampal calcifications were not related to cognitive problems, de Brouwer noted in an email. This was a surprise because researchers had expected that calcification might be related to vascular problems common with smoking and diabetes that could contribute to shrinkage of tissue, or atrophy, in the hippocampus and subsequent cognitive decline.

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