Background: With improved treatment, individuals with type 1 diabetes are living longer but there is limited information on the effects of type 1 diabetes on cognitive ability as they become older adults. We followed up individuals with type 1 diabetes to identify independent risk factors for cognitive decline as people age.
Methods: 1051 participants with type 1 diabetes enrolled in the Diabetes Control and Complications Trial (DCCT) and its follow-up Epidemiology of Diabetes Interventions and Complications (EDIC) study. Participants completed cognitive assessments at baseline (median age 27 years) and 2, 5, 18, and 32 years later (median age 59). HbA1c levels, frequency of severe hypoglycaemia, non-glycemic risk factors such as elevated blood pressure, and microvascular and macrovascular complications were assessed repeatedly. We examined the effects of these on measures of memory and psychomotor and mental efficiency. These studies are registered with clinicaltrials.gov, NCT00360815 (DCCT) and NCT00360893 (EDIC).
Findings: Over 32 years of follow-up, we found substantive declines in memory and psychomotor and mental efficiency. Between 18 and 32 years of follow-up, the decline in psychomotor and mental efficiency was five times larger than the change from baseline to year 18. Independent of the other risk factors and comorbidities, exposure to higher HbA1c levels, more episodes of severe hypoglycaemia, and elevated systolic blood pressure were associated with greater decrements in psychomotor and mental efficiency that was most notable by year 32 (p<0·0001). The combined effect of the presence of these three risk factors is the equivalent to an additional 9·4 years of age.
Interpretation: Cognitive function declines with ageing in type 1 diabetes. The association of glycaemia and blood pressure levels with cognitive decline suggests that better management might preserve cognitive function.
Funding: United States National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease.
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