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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

Dementia risk for older people with diabetes and memory problems

Embargoed until 06 January 2010

Older people with memory loss are three times more likely to develop dementia if they also have diabetes, a new study suggests.

It is already known that diabetes mellitus is associated with the development of mild cognitive impairment, or memory loss. But it is not clear if diabetes also increases the risk of conversion from mild cognitive impairment to dementia.

Researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, set out to determine if having diabetes also increases the risk of a person progressing from mild cognitive impairment to dementia. Their findings are published in the January issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry.

The researchers followed 61 people aged over 65 for a period of four years. All the participants had mild cognitive impairment, and 16 (16%) also had a diagnosis of diabetes.

At the end of the four year period, 19 (31%) of the participants had progressed to dementia. Two (3%) of the participants reverted to normal cognitive levels, and 40 (59%) remained stable. Of those who progressed to dementia, 7 had diabetes.

Analysis showed that only diabetes was associated with progression to dementia, after adjusting for other risk factors such as gender, age, and other health conditions.

The researchers said: “Our study demonstrates that people with mild cognitive impairment and diabetes are at increased risk of developing dementia.

“With an expected increase in prevalence of diabetes of people of all ages, including older adults, the risk of developing dementia may increase. Identification of those at particular risk of progression to dementia might help to target early treatment. There is also a need for studies of improved diabetes control and related approaches as possible strategies for early intervention.”

The study was funded by the Alzheimer’s Research Trust, UK Medical Research Council and National Institute for Health Research specialist Biomedical Research Centre for Mental Health at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London.

For further information, please contact:
Sarah Nevins
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Claire McLoughlin
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Velayudhan L, Poppe M, Archer N, Proitsi P, Brown RG and Lovestone S (2009) Risk of developing dementia in people with diabetes and mild cognitive impairment, British Journal of Psychiatry, 196:36-40


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