Older type 2 diabetes drugs linked to 22% lower dementia risk

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Dementia is not a specific disease but is rather a general term for the impaired ability to remember, think, or make decisions that interfere with everyday activities.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. Though dementia mostly affects older adults, it is not a part of normal aging.

In a study from the University of Arizona, scientists found use of an older class of type 2 diabetes drugs called glitazones, also known as thiazolidinediones or TZDs for short, is linked to a 22% reduced risk of dementia.

These drugs may effectively prevent dementia in patients at high risk with mild or moderate type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes and dementia share some of the same physiological patterns. Researchers have started to look at whether diabetes drugs might also help stave off or treat dementia.

In the current study, the team compared dementia risk in older people with type 2 diabetes and treated with either a sulfonylurea or a thiazolidinedione (TZD) with those treated with metformin alone.

They drew on the electronic health records of 559,106 people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes from the national Veteran Affairs (VA) Health System, spanning the period from January 2000 to December 2019.

Only older patients (aged at least 60) and given a first prescription of metformin, or a sulfonylurea (tolbutamide, glimepiride, glipizide, or glyburide), or a TZD (rosiglitazone or pioglitazone) between January 2001 and December 2017 were included (559,106) in the study.

Their health was tracked for an average of nearly 8 years.

After at least one year of drug treatment, the use of a TZD alone was linked to a 22% lower risk of dementia from any cause, compared with the use of metformin alone.

Specifically, it was associated with an 11% lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease and a 57% lower risk of vascular dementia.

The team says given that vascular diseases increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, TZDs may also help to reduce dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in part through their favorable effects on the vascular system.

While the risk of dementia from any cause was 11% lower for the use of metformin and TZD combined, it was 12% higher for the use of a sulfonylurea drug alone.

This prompts the researchers to suggest that supplementing a sulfonylurea with either metformin or a TZD may partially offset these effects.

Further in-depth analysis indicated that those younger than 75 benefited more from a TZD than older patients, highlighting the importance of early prevention for dementia, note the researchers.

These drugs also seemed to be more protective in overweight or obese patients.

The researchers suggest that future studies for repurposing diabetes drugs for dementia prevention might want to consider prioritizing TZDs, based on their findings.

If you care about diabetes, please read studies about how COVID-19 is linked to diabetes, and if you have diabetes, coffee and green tea may help you live longer.

For more information about dementia, please see recent studies about why people with type 2 diabetes may develop dementia, and results showing slow walk and memory problems may predict dementia risk.

The study was published in BMJ Open Diabetes Research & Care.

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