Dementia Up in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes – Linked to Drops in Blood Sugar

A long term study of older patients with Type 2 diabetes found that those who had experienced even one episode of hypoglycemia, or life threatening drops in blood sugar, were at a higher risk for developing dementia than diabetic patients who had not experienced such an episode.

The findings to be published in the Journal of the American Medical Association are significant given the high rate of Type 2 diabetes patients in the world and the expectation that dementia rates will increase as the population ages.

“We’ve known for some time that patients with Type 2 diabetes are at greater risks of dementia and cognitive problems,” said Rachel A. Whitmer of the Division of Research at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, California. “This adds to the evidence that balance of glycemic controls is important, and that trying to aim for a very low glycemic target might not be beneficial and it might even be harmful.” Ms. Whitmer is one of the authors of this article.

The study found that risk of dementia of those patients who had experienced a single episode of hypoglycemia that required a hospitalization were 26% higher than the risk for other patients who had never had such an episode. And those patients who had experienced two episodes of hypoglycemia faced an increase risk of 80%, while those who had experienced 3 episodes or more had a 94% increase in risk, or almost double the odds of developing dementia.

The researchers gathered their data from 16,667 Kaiser Permanente patients with Type 2 diabetes to determine how many had experienced severe hypoglycemia episodes from 1980 to 2001, and how many of those had first received a diagnosis of dementia from 2003 to 2007 when their mean age was 74 to 78.

These recent findings are concerning to an enlarging population of Americans affected by diabetes. In an interview at the American Diabetes Association’s 67th Annual Scientific Sessions at Chicago in June 2007, Linda S. Geiss, MA said that, “The growth in diabetes prevalence and incidents accelerated in the early 1990s and this acceleration remains unabated.” Linda Geiss, MA is the Chief of Diabetes Surveillance, Diabetes Program, Division of Diabetes Translation, Centers for Diabetes Control and Prevention.

It is important to note that these results apply only to people with Type 2 diabetes. According to Dr. Alan M. Jacobson, a researcher at Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, an earlier study of Type 1 diabetes and dementia found no connection.

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