Investigating how to help people with dementia to better manage diabetes

Research project: Hypoglycaemia and serious adverse events in older people living with dementia and diabetes

Lead Investigator: Dr Katharina Mattishent 
Institution: Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital NHS Trust 
Grant type: Clinical Training Fellowship
Duration: 36 months
Amount: £217,144

 Why did we fund this project?

Comments from members of our Research Network:

'This study highlights an important area of work. The author is well aware of the need for dissemination.'

'This addresses the practicalities of managing a co-morbidity for a growing number of people with dementia, and the impact that this can have for the individual's wellbeing and NHS resources.'

'A very welcome project given the 'linkages' involved [between] dementia and diabetes. The information from the monitoring of 'hypos' has to be useful anyway and much background information will be gleaned via this project.'

What do we already know?

Diabetes and dementia are common illnesses that can occur together in older people. In the next 10 years, an estimated 5 million people will have diabetes, and more than a million people will have dementia. Currently, 1 in 5 patients with dementia also have diabetes.

People with memory problems may have trouble in monitoring their diabetes and taking their medication correctly. Not taking enough medication can lead to complications, but taking too much is also dangerous, with people experiencing dangerously low blood sugar levels. This leads to a medical condition called hypoglycaemia. This condition can also be caused by missing meals, which can often happen for people affected by dementia. 

Previous work by Dr Mattishent has found that people with dementia appear to be at particularly high risk of hypoglycaemia. There is also evidence that frequently experiencing hypoglycaemia could make a person's dementia worse.

What does this project involve?

Dr Mattishent will first make use of a database to investigate whether experiencing hypoglycaemia is more common in people with dementia. She will also use this information to understand whether hypoglycaemia in people with dementia can increase risk of other conditions such as falls, stroke or heart disease. 

The study will also understand whether technology called continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) can help people with diabetes and dementia. This technology makes use of small sensors that can monitor a person's blood sugar levels and alerts them via a smartphone if they need to take any action. However, this technology has not been tested to see if it can help people with diabetes and dementia. 

Part of this project will therefore find out whether it would be possible to conduct a study into the use of continuous glucose monitoring for people with diabetes and dementia. For example, Dr Mattishent hopes to find out whether hypoglycaemia can be effectively monitored using this method and if people with dementia would be happy to take part in a two week study.

How will this benefit people with dementia?

Many people affected by dementia will have other health conditions as well, and managing each of these health conditions properly can be extremely challenging. This project hopes to pave the way towards helping people with dementia and diabetes to manage their diabetes better. This will reduce the risk of dangerous medical conditions that can occur due to diabetes.  

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