BrightFocus-Funded Research Points to Vicious Cycle Between Dementia and Low Blood Sugar

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UC San Francisco Study Implies Heightened Risks to Elderly in Managing Diabetes and Cognitive Functions

Clarksburg, MD—Diabetes-associated episodes of low blood sugar may increase the risk of developing dementia, while having dementia or even milder forms of cognitive impairment may increase the risk of experiencing low blood sugar, according to new research from UC San Francisco and funded by the Maryland-based BrightFocus Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

Based on data from almost 800 diabetic participants, researchers found that hospitalization for severe hypoglycemia among the diabetic, elderly participants in the study was associated with a doubled risk of developing dementia later.  Similarly, study participants with dementia were twice as likely to experience a severe hypoglycemic event.

The original scientific paper, published online in JAMA Internal Medicine, is available here.

“Individuals with dementia or even those with milder forms of cognitive impairment may be less able to effectively manage complex treatment regimens for diabetes and less able to recognize the symptoms of hypoglycemia and to respond appropriately, increasing their risk of severe hypoglycemia,” said Kristine Yaffe, MD, senior author and principal investigator for the study, and a UCSF professor of psychiatry, neurology and epidemiology based at the San Francisco Veterans Affair Medical Center.

“Older patients with diabetes may be especially vulnerable to a vicious cycle in which poor diabetes management may lead to cognitive decline and then to even worse diabetes management,” Yaffe said.

BrightFocus Foundation, formerly the American Health Assistance Foundation, awarded Yaffe a grant for roughly $400,000 over a four year period beginning in April, 2010 to study glucose regulation and cognitive and brain changes during aging. She also received support from the National Institutes of Health. BrightFocus has awarded more than $120 million in research funding through 1,010 grants worldwide. Grant recipients include some of the top scientists in the field of brain and eye disease.

“We’re proud to have helped facilitate Dr. Yaffe’s important and innovative research,” said Stacy Haller, President and Chief Executive Officer of BrightFocus Foundation. “Understanding any links between cognitive function and blood sugar will be critically important in the effort to prevent or treat dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.”

BrightFocus Foundation is a nonprofit organization supporting research and public education to help eradicate brain and eye diseases, including Alzheimer's disease, macular degeneration and glaucoma. For more information, call 1-800-437-2423.


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BrightFocus Foundation
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