Type 1 diabetes could increase the risk of dementia and other cognitive problems, according to new research.
The study, which will be presented at the Alzheimers Association International Conference in Washington D.C., suggested that people with type 1 diabetes could be as much as 83 per cent more likely to develop dementia as they age than people without the disease.
The study was conducted by examining the records of 490,000 patients who were over the age of 60. Of these patients, 334 had type 1 diabetes. None of the 490,000 had dementia at the beginning of the study.
During the 12-year study period, 16 per cent of the 334 type 1 patients developed dementia, compared to 12 per cent of the 490,000. Of the patients who had type 2 diabetes, 15 per cent developed dementia.
“Our study found a modestly higher risk of all-cause dementia in people with type 1 diabetes. The next step is to figure out what that means, and how we can help people with type 1 diabetes age successfully,” said study author Rachel Whitmer, senior scientist in the division of research at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, California.
Although there are strong links between type 2 diabetes and dementia, this is the first study to find similar links with type 1. Previous research has, however, found links between type 1 diabetes and cognitive decline.
“The correlation with type 2 and dementia is so strong, but a correlation with type 1 diabetes hadn’t yet been show,” said Helen Nickerso, the director of translational research for JDRF.
However, this is a very preliminary study, and more research is needed to confirm the findings. The sample size of 334 participants with type 1 diabetes is very small, too small to draw any decisive conclusions. It is possible that over a larger group the increase in the likelihood of dementia would not have been consistent.
Moreover, the participants with type 1 were all over the age of 60. Over the last 50 or so years, diabetes management has changed dramatically, so the findings – if they are confirmed – may not apply to people more recently diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
The study is yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal. Until then, research tends to be considered at a preliminary stage.
According to Helen Nickerso, the study asks more questions than it answers, such as: is the risk of dementia dependent on how well blood glucose levels are controlled?
That said, the findings are interesting, and could lead to the development of important research in an as yet unexplored area of diabetes complications.

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