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Low Blood Sugar Batters Brain

Q. My mother-in-law was hospitalized twice this winter for a weak heart. The hospital was very aggressive in treating her diabetes, although we repeatedly told them that she is better off with blood sugar a little higher than “normal.”

Then she was in a nursing home for three months for rehab, and again they were aggressive with diabetes management, although we again insisted that a higher than normal glucose level was normal for her.

Twice she was sent back to the hospital when her blood sugar crashed, once down to 43 and the second time to 25. They were giving her too much diabetes medicine despite our requests.

Now she is in assisted living but completely confused. Could the low blood sugar episodes have affected her brain?

A. A recent study (JAMA Internal Medicine, online, June 10, 2013) reveals that episodes of hypoglycemia (severe low blood sugar) double the risk for dementia. Your mother-in-law’s blood sugar was far too low.

Trying to keep blood glucose within narrow limits increases the likelihood of a hypoglycemic crash. This is especially worrisome in older people. We are sending you our Guide to Managing Diabetes with more details on monitoring blood sugar and a variety of ways to control it.

You may also be interested in our one-hour radio show on the topic of Diabetes Solutions. Our expert guests discuss diet, medications and pyschological support for optimal control and avoiding diabetes burnout.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.”.
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