Although researchers reporting the phenomenon can’t quite put their fingers on how it works, a newly released study says that severe hypoglycemic episodes requiring hospitalization among older people with type 2 diabetes create a greater risk – 32 percent – for developing dementia.
The study, authored by Rachel A. Whitmer at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, California tracked 16,667 type 2 patients, average age 65, from 1980 to 2007. Researchers monitored the number of hypoglycemic episodes the patients experienced over a 22-year span of the study, and also looked at diagnoses of dementia among them.
Whitmer said that there may be an association between hypoglycemic episodes and adverse neurological consequences in patients who are already at risk for dementia. In the case of people with type 2, who experience hypoglycemia much more often than people without the disease, the risk for dementia runs higher.
She said that the study was not able to determine if less severe low blood sugar episodes-ones that do not result in hospitalization-could also be linked to an increased risk of developing dementia.
Comments on the study, which was published in the April 15 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, cautioned against assuming a cause-and-effect link between hypoglycemic episodes and the risk of dementia. For instance, high blood sugar-hyperglycemia-can be cumulatively destructive to brain cells and could itself be a factor in the eventual onset of dementia.
Other factors leading to dementia could include a lessening of the blood supply to the brain or damage to neurons created by the administration of too much insulin over time.
Add to that the idiosyncrasies involved at trying to establish control over glucose levels as the individual level. It often takes months to figure out which levels of insulin or other glucose-control drugs can hew to the fine line between too little control (hyperglycemia) and too much (hypoglycemia).
So, ironically, the problem may circle back to healthcare professionals’ attempts to help patients assert greater control over their blood sugar levels through the use of drugs that can drive them too low.
Even though low blood sugar readings indicate a lessening of the presence of destructive, inflammatory glucose, the sometimes resultant hypoglycemic episodes increase patients’ odds of suffering from dementia at a later date.