Hypoglycemia Increases Dementia Risk Among Diabetics

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Type 2 diabetics who are older, and require hospitalization for hypoglycemia, are found to be at increased risk for dementia. The study is one of the first to show the link between type 2 diabetes, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), and increased dementia risk in older diabetic adults.

Studies show that diabetes alone increases dementia risk. Rachel A. Whitmer, Ph.D., of Kaiser Permanente, Oakland, California led the study says, “Pharmacologically induced severe hypoglycemia may be associated with neurological consequences in an older population already susceptible to dementia.” When blood sugars drop repeatedly among older Type 2 diabetics, the risk of dementia increases even more.

The study included 16,667 patients with type 2 diabetes, over age 65. The research examined the risk of dementia among the diabetics, related to low blood sugar, over a twenty-two year period.


According to the study authors, "Specifically, we observed a 2.39 percent increase in absolute risk of dementia per year of follow-up for patients with history of hypoglycemia, compared with patients without a history. Although this 1-year absolute risk difference is modest, the cumulative effects would be sizeable.” Diabetics with no hospitalizations for hypoglycemia

Three or more episodes of hypoglycemia amounted to twice the risk of dementia among type 2 diabetics. Just one episode of hypoglycemia increased dementia risk by thirty-six percent, and two episodes of hypoglycemia increased the risk of dementia by eighty percent.

Hypoglycemia can cause confusion, slurred speech, decreased level of consciousness, and seizures. The authors say more studies are needed to understand how repeated bouts of hypoglycemia in type 2 diabetics increases the risk of dementia.

JAMA. 2009;301[15]:1565-1572