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Severe hypoglycaemia and late-life cognitive ability in older people with Type 2 diabetes: the Edinburgh Type 2 Diabetes Study


Dr Jackie F. Price, Centre for Population Health Sciences, University of Edinburgh, Medical School, Teviot Place, Edinburgh EH8 9AG, UK. E-mail:


Diabet. Med. 29, 328–336 (2012)


Objective  To determine the association between lifetime severe hypoglycaemia and late-life cognitive ability in older people with Type 2 diabetes.

Methods  Cross-sectional, population-based study of 1066 men and women aged 60–75 years, with Type 2 diabetes. Frequency of severe hypoglycaemia over a person’s lifetime and in the year prior to cognitive testing was assessed using a previously validated self-completion questionnaire. Results of age-sensitive neuropsychological tests were combined to derive a late-life general cognitive ability factor, ‘g’. Vocabulary test scores, which are stable during ageing, were used to estimate early life (prior) cognitive ability.

Results  After age- and sex- adjustment, ‘g‘ was lower in subjects reporting at least one prior severe hypoglycaemia episode (n = 113), compared with those who did not report severe hypoglycaemia (mean ‘g’−0.34 vs. 0.05, P < 0.001). Mean vocabulary test scores did not differ significantly between the two groups (30.2 vs. 31.0, P = 0.13). After adjustment for vocabulary, difference in ‘g’ between the groups persisted (means −0.25 vs. 0.04, P < 0.001), with the group with severe hypoglycaemia demonstrating poorer performance on tests of Verbal Fluency (34.5 vs. 37.3, P = 0.02), Digit Symbol Testing (45.9 vs. 49.9, P = 0.002), Letter–Number Sequencing (9.1 vs. 9.8, P = 0.005) and Trail Making (P < 0.001). These associations persisted after adjustment for duration of diabetes, vascular disease and other potential confounders.

Conclusions  Self-reported history of severe hypoglycaemia was associated with poorer late-life cognitive ability in people with Type 2 diabetes. Persistence of this association after adjustment for estimated prior cognitive ability suggests that the association may be attributable, at least in part, to an effect of hypoglycaemia on age-related cognitive decline.