Objectives: In experimental studies, both high and low levels of plasma glucose are associated with cognitive impairment. In populations, less is known about the relationship between glycemia and cognitive function, especially in persons using glucose-lowering drugs.
Design: A cross-sectional study of 378 high-functioning black and white men and women aged 70 to 79 participating in the Health, Aging, and Body Composition Study (Health ABC) who used glucose-lowering medications. Glycemic measures included fasting plasma glucose (FPG) and glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1c). Cognitive function was assessed using the Modified Mini-Mental State Examination (3MS) and the Digit Symbol Substitution Test (DSS) at the same examination visit in which the glycemic measures were determined.
Setting: Memphis, Tennessee and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Results: We observed an "inverted-U" relationship (p =.0025 for 3MS, p=.0277 for DSS) between FPG (range 47 - 366 mg/dl) and performance on these two tests. The fasting plasma glucose levels associated with the highest score on the 3MS was 180 mg/dl and 135 mg/dl for the DSS. There was a monotonic inverse relationship between HbA1c and performance on 3MS and DSS without evidence of a threshold effect.
Conclusion: Our findings suggest that older adults who are treated for diabetes may experience a small degree of cognitive impairment within the recommended fasting glucose levels, yet measures of long-term glycemic control support tight glycemic control. Given the high prevalence of diabetes and the common use of glucose-lowering drugs in older adults, further studies are needed to elucidate these relationships.