Study Links Type 1 Diabetes to Higher Risk of Dementia

Blood glucose test
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Researchers have conducted several studies involving dementia and type 2 diabetes, and many of these have concluded there's a significantly higher risk of dementia developing in this population.

Type 1 diabetes has, however, been largely ignored in these discussions.

In 2015, a study changed that, focusing on persons with type 1 diabetes and evaluating their risk of developing dementia.

What's the Difference Between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes?

Both types of diabetes involve difficulty with the body's ability to regulate blood sugar levels.

Type 1 diabetes most often develops in childhood and used to be called juvenile diabetes. In type 1 diabetes, the body either stops producing insulin or doesn't make enough. This hinders the ability to transport glucose in the blood to our cells where it's used as energy.

Type 2 diabetes is the kind typically developed in adulthood, although its prevalence is increasing in children. The risk of type 2 diabetes is higher in those who are overweight and physically inactive. In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas still produces insulin but it's used less efficiently so more has to be produced. In many cases, the body can't keep up with the need.  

This Study

Researchers tracked approximately 490,000 people over the age of 60 for 12 years. These participants were part of Kaiser Permanente Northern California health system. Since approximately 90% of people with diabetes have type 2, the sample size in this study of those with type 1 diabetes was relatively small at 334.

The health of this group was tracked and compared with two other groups: those with type 2 diabetes and a group of participants without type 1 or type 2 diabetes.

The Results

The study found that people with type 1 diabetes had a significantly higher risk of developing dementia as they age. During the follow-up period of this study, 16% of patients with type 1 developed dementia, compared to only 12% of patients without diabetes — resulting in an 83% higher risk.

Interpreting Those Results

Unlike type 2 diabetes where multiple studies have reported a correlation with dementia, this is only one study with a small sample size. Additionally, this type of study does not determine the cause of dementia- it merely points out a correlation, meaning that the presence of one condition makes the other more likely to also exist.

More research needs to be conducted to determine if indeed the risk of dementia is increased in type 1 diabetes, and if so, to identify treatment options and strategies to educate patients about risk reduction.

Meanwhile, remaining physically active, eating a diet that is connected with a decreased risk of dementia and being intentional about challenging yourself mentally can all help decrease the risk of developing dementia.​


    Alzheimer's Association International Conference 2015. July 21, 2015. First Study of Type 1 Diabetes and Risk of Dementia in Late Life.

    National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. February 12, 2014. Your Guide to Diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2.

    U.S. National Library of Medicine. Type 2 Diabetes.