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Diabetes Bites Newsletter

cognitive decline

By, Kathryn Gentile, B.S. Exercise Physiology

Can Severe Hypoglycemia lead to Cognitive Dysfunction Later in Life?

The effects of prolonged hyperglycemia are often a topic of discussion. But what about hypoglycemia? Many people don’t realize that there are any long term complications of severe low blood sugars. Particularly, with brain health.

A recent study sought to answer the following question: Is brain health significantly lower in subjects that have been exposed to recent or lifetime severe hypoglycemia?

Severe hypoglycemia is related to the development of diabetes-related cognitive dysfunction. Previous studies have shown that patients with type 1 diabetes who have experienced severe hypoglycemia had a decrease in the following cognitive areas: visual perception, speed of information processing, attention span, psychomotor efficiency, and mental flexibility.

With that knowledge, the study examined 718 adults in senior years of life with type 1 diabetes. A year before the research began, every participant reported cases of severe hypoglycemia to a physician at a routine check-up. Additionally, all subjects had a history of severe hypoglycemia that resulted in inpatient or emergency department utilization. Language, executive function, episodic memory, and simple attention in each participant was also analyzed by the researchers.

The findings indicate that severe hypoglycemia has a negative effect on the health of the brain in older patients. Notably, the results of the study, along with studies with similar evaluations, have confirmed the idea that only severe events of hypoglycemia can decrease cognitive function.

Since this was not a controlled study, it is difficult to establish causality.  Perhaps people with some degree of cognitive impairment are at a higher risk of severe lows (and not the other way around) due to lesser self-management skills.

Regardless, health care providers should understand the importance of severe hypoglycemia prevention as it is a reality many people with diabetes have experienced. Our team understands how dangerous and frightening severe hypoglycemic events can be. We are available to work with anyone who is looking to cut back on the incidence of all forms of hypoglycemia, not just severe ones.

For more information visit: diabetesincontrol.com/low-cognitive-function-with-low-glucose/

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