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Sex, diabetes status and cognition: findings from the study of longevity in diabetes

Women comprise two-thirds of people with dementia, making female sex a significant dementia risk factor. Both type 1 diabetes (T1D) and type 2 diabetes (T2D) are known dementia risk factors with an increasing global incidence. Understanding whether subtle sex differences persist in cognitive function prior to dementia in the context of diabetes may help elucidate the magnitude of sex effects on dementia risk. We examined cross-sectional data from the Study of Longevity in Diabetes (SOLID), a prospective cohort study of members of Kaiser Permanente Northern California aged 60 years and older with T1D (n=758), T2D (n=232) and without either T1D or T2D (n=247). We used factor analysis to generate summary scores of cognitive domains and used regression analyses to examine the associations between sex and cognition adjusting for sociodemographic and cardiovascular confounders. We included 1237 participants (630 women and 607 men) with mean age 68 years. By design, the distribution of men and women in T1D, T2D and no diabetes was similar. Women had better cognitive performance than men in global cognition (β=0.21, 95% CI 0.16 to 0.26), language (β=0.08, 95% CI 0.004 to 0.15), executive function (β=0.13, 95% CI 0.05 to 0.20), episodic verbal memory (β=0.68, 95% CI 0.59 to 0.77) and attention (β=0.20, 95% CI 0.11 to 0.28) but not in episodic visual memory (β=0.006, 95% CI -0.07 to 0.09) adjusting for age and education independent of diabetes status. We did not find an interaction between sex and diabetes status for any of the cognitive outcomes. Women in late mid-life have better cognitive performance than men in many cognitive domains independent of the presence of T1D or T2D. Further work is required to understand whether these differences change over time or in older cohorts and to understand their relationship to subsequent dementia.

Authors: Moran, Chris; Gilsanz, Paola; Beeri, Michal S; Whitmer, Rachel A; Lacy, Mary E

BMJ Open Diabetes Res Care. 2021 01;9(1).

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