Type 1 diabetes: is there an increased risk of Alzheimer's for patients?

Using MRIs and neuropsychological tests, researchers investigated if and how brain functions of type 1 diabetic patients differ from non-diabetics.

Diabetes and brain function: key facts

Type 1 diabetes: one disease, many facets

Diseases with a long duration, such as type 1 diabetes, are often associated with secondary symptoms. Many organs and functions - from arteries and kidneys to the cardiovascular system - suffer as a result of exposure to the disease, often lasting for decades. Some sufferers are also concerned about a possible increased risk of dementia. Little is known about this topic. A recent study has now investigated whether there is a link between diabetes and Alzheimer's disease.

Impaired sugar metabolism: leading to impaired brain function?

The researchers examined 416 type 1 diabetics who had suffered from the metabolic disorder for an average of 38 years, and compared the results with 99 comparable non-diabetics. Each participant underwent an MRI of the brain and underwent neuropsychological testing. This made it possible to recognise structural brain damage as well as cognitive impairments.

More Alzheimer's in diabetics?

The result showed that an increased incidence of Alzheimer's was not found in the diabetes group. Both arms of the study showed roughly the same incidence of the disease. 

However, the data in the relatively small study population showed that premature ageing of the brain can occur in the diabetic group - on average by around six years, after an average disease duration of 38 years. The diabetics in the study also showed slight cognitive impairment compared to the control group, but the differences between the two groups were minimal.

Conclusions for medical practice

Long-term type 1 diabetes does not appear to be associated with a significantly increased risk of Alzheimer's disease. However, current data from this recent study suggest that premature brain ageing may occur in people with the metabolic disease; on average up to 6 years in the mentioned study. Although the study was too small to draw definitive conclusions, adequate control of sugar levels is essential to prevent the possible development of diabetes.

  1. Habes M, Jacobson AM, Braffett BH, Rashid T, Ryan CM, Shou H, Cui Y, Davatzikos C, Luchsinger JA, Biessels GJ, Bebu I, Gubitosi-Klug RA, Bryan RN, Nasrallah IM; DCCT/EDIC Research Group. Patterns of Regional Brain Atrophy and Brain Aging in Middle- and Older-Aged Adults With Type 1 Diabetes. JAMA Netw Open. 2023 Jun 1;6(6):e2316182. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.16182. PMID: 37261829; PMCID: PMC10236234.