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Diabetes

Diabetes and Dementia

05/09/2008

Question:

Approximately one month ago, my 62 year old sister was in the ER three consecutive days with blood glucose levels over 600. She is now in a mental health assisted living facility diagnosed with dementia and possibly Alzheimer`s. Now, she cannot be left alone nor care for herself. Can you explain any possible cause and effect that the recent high blood sugars may have had to lead to her current condition? In addition, she has carotid artery stenosis but no need for surgery at this time. I would greatly appreciate any resources to help me understand what has happened. I am grateful for any assistance and information you provide.

Answer:

I would encourage you to check the National Library of Medicine website of the National Institutes of Health to see if you can find reference material that would bear on your questions.  I will also attach links to several organizations that provide information about diabetes.  I am sure there are also nonprofit organizations that provide information about dementia including Alzheimer's disease but I am not familiar with their web sites.

It is not clear cut either way whether there is any relationship between the dementia in your sister and either the diabetes in general or the 3 days of high blood sugars in particular from the information provided.  We do know that severe high or low blood sugars for prolonged periods of time can have detrimental effects on the brain and people can die from either.  The problem comes when you get down to defining how high or how low and for how long.  People that have some degree of dementia may not be able to take care of themselves very well with diabetes:  hence it is possible that the dementia may have been present and contributed to the recurrent episodes of high blood sugars.  But it would be very speculative to say whether she had high enough blood sugars for a sufficiently prolonged period of time to contribute substantially to dementia. 

Related Resources:

American Diabetes Association
CDC Diabetes Public Health Resource
Juvenile Diabetes Foundation
National Institute of Diabetes & Digestive & Kidney Diseases
The Hormone Foundation

For more information:

Go to the Diabetes health topic, where you can:

Response by:

Robert M Cohen, MD Robert M Cohen, MD
Professor of Clinical Medicine
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati