Research Update: Diabetes Medication Lowers Dementia Risk

Treating Alzheimer's Disease with Diabetes Drug. Dieter Spannknebel Stockbyte/Getty Images

Diabetes and Dementia

The connection is quite clear; people with type 2 diabetes have a significantly higher risk for developing Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia. In fact, there's such a tie between the two diseases that Alzheimer's has been nicknamed "Type 3 Diabetes" by some.

However, the latest research suggests there may be something we can do about this risk.

For several years, researchers have been testing the possibility that insulin drugs may be helpful in treating Alzheimer's disease. For example, one study found an association between treatment with an insulin sensitizer drug and a reduced incidence of dementia in people with diabetes.

The Study

One of the latest studies in the overlap of diabetes and dementia focuses on the potential to reduce the risk of developing dementia, as opposed to treatment of the condition after it develops.

Researchers in Germany reviewed health insurance information on 145,928 patients over the age of 60 for the years of 2004- 2010. They classified people into different groups:

  • Absence of diabetes
  • Diabetes without treatment by the drug pioglitazone
  • Diagnosis of diabetes treated by the drug pioglitazone for less than 8 calendar quarters
  • Diagnosis of diabetes treated by the drug pioglitazone for more than 8 calendar quarters

They then compared the rate of dementia development in each of these groups.

The Results

After the data was compiled, the following results were found:

1) As was expected based on previous research, the higher risk of dementia in people with diabetes was confirmed, with a 23% increased risk compared to those without diabetes.

2) People with diabetes who were treated with pioglitazone for more than 8 calendar quarters had a significantly reduced risk of developing dementia.

3) In fact, their risk for dementia was less than those without diabetes- by 47%. In other words, people with long-term treatment of pioglitazone had almost half the risk of dementia compared to people who don't have diabetes.

4) Those with a shorter treatment period of pioglitazone (less than 8 calendar quarters) demonstrated an equal risk of dementia as compared to people without diabetes.

5) Metformin, another drug prescribed to treat diabetes, also was found to lower the risk of dementia, but to a lesser degree.

This intriguing result suggests that using pioglitazone may reduce the subsequent risk of demential in people with diabetes. A study specifically designed to confirm that the drug actually confers this benefit is now needed. Fortunately, studies like this one are stimulating more research on the relationship between diabetes and dementia.

More about Pioglitazone

Pioglitazone (brand name Actos) is a medication in the class of thiazolidinediones. It's prescribed to treat diabetes by improving the sensitivity to insulin.

While the results of this study are very encouraging, there have been some concerns identified with the use of this drug including congestive heart failure, liver problems, bladder cancer and an increased risk of broken bones. 

Ongoing Research

More research is being conducted on the use of this medication for treatment and prevention of dementia. Visit US Clinical Trials to view the ongoing clinical trials being conducted involving pioglitazone.

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Article Sources

  • Annals of Neurology. 2015 May 14. Effect of pioglitazone medication on the incidence of dementia.
  • Deutsches Zentrum für Neurodegenerative Erkrankungen e.V. German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases within the Helmholtz Association. Diabetes medication reduces dementia risk. Accessed June 25, 2015.
  • National Institutes of Health. US National Library of Medicine. Medline Plus. Pioglitazone. February 15, 2014.