Severity of Diabetic Complications Linked to Dementia Risk, Study Finds

People with diabetes who experience high rates of complications are more likely to develop dementia than those who have fewer diabetic complications, according to a new study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. More than 29 million Americans have diabetes, and an estimated 5 million are living with age-related dementia.

Poorly controlled diabetes can lead to a number of complications, such as retinopathy (eye damage), nephropathy (kidney damage), and neuropathy (nerve damage), and diabetes is also known to be a risk factor for dementia (a group of symptoms linked with a decline in memory or other thinking skills). To determine how the severity and progression of diabetes affects the risk of developing dementia, researchers looked at records from the Taiwan National Health Insurance Research Database for 431,178 people older than 50 who had been newly diagnosed with diabetes. The subjects’ severity and progression of diabetes was evaluated using a version of the Diabetes Complications Severity Index, which covers seven complications and is used to predict deaths and hospitalizations of people with diabetes.


The researchers found that 26,856, or 6.2%, of the people evaluated developed dementia within 12 years. The risk was higher among those with a high score on the Diabetes Complications Severity Index than those with a low score. Additionally, compared to those with mildly progressing diabetes, those with more rapidly progressing diabetes had a greater dementia risk.

“The study demonstrates why it is so crucial for people with diabetes to work closely with health-care providers on controlling their blood sugar,” said study author Wei-Che Chiu, MD, PhD. “Managing the disease can help prevent the onset of dementia later in life.”

In a related comment, Robert Lash, MD, who is a spokesperson for the Endocrine Society and was not involved in the research, stated that it is too soon to consider dementia to be a diabetic complication because there is a “complicated” relationship between the two conditions.

For more information, read the article “Diabetes complications linked to rising risk of dementia” or see the study’s abstract in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. And for more strategies on keeping your mind sharp, see the article “Memory Fitness” by Dr. Cynthia Green, founding director of the Memory Enhancement Program at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.