While most clinicians and scientists focus on harm to the lower extremities in type 2 diabetics, researchers at the University of Houston Department of Health and Human Performance are concerned with impairment in dexterity and sensory function in the hands. “It’s a very basic concept that no one’s looked at before,” said Stacey Gorniak, assistant professor and researcher at the Texas Medical Center. “No one has examined what it is like if a patient living with type 2 diabetes touches an object compared to someone who’s healthy.”
Nine percent of the Texan population is impacted by type 2 diabetes, which is sometimes accompanied by diabetic neuropathy, a nerve disorder that presents with numbness, pain, and tingling. Gorniak wondered whether diabetics experience neuropathy in their hands in addition to their feet and if the condition changes how they interact with the world. “Is it different? It really is,” said Gorniak. “We’re not just seeing the traditional diabetic issues with the feet and the legs, but we’re actually seeing effects to the hands. We found changes to the central nervous system that are not correlated with disease duration or disease severity, but simply due to the presence of the disease.”
Her findings were conducted at the University of Houston Center for Neuromotor and Biomechanics Research at the National Center for Human Performance in the Texas Medical Center. Tests included traditional clinical evaluations in addition to a video game-like computer program that measured patient interaction with hand-held items. Data was analyzed to find a correlation between the presence of diabetes and fingertip and hand function in both men and women.
Type 2 diabetics had a decline in dexterity when performing fine motor tasks and a decline in strength when gripping objects. They also had small nerve fiber dysfunction in both hands. Future studies plan to address systemic changes including an altered blood flow to the limbs that impacts muscle tissue and motor skills. A better understanding of the impact of diabetes will help patients in their day-to-day activities. “Interacting with an object changes with diabetes. This change impacts quality of life,” said Gorniak. “Brushing your teeth, feeding yourself, holding a phone and having a conversation, writing with a pen or pencil. These are all activities we take for granted.”