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Diabetic Episodes Affect Kids' Memory

October 16, 2009

Children who have had an episode of diabetic ketoacidosis, a common complication of diabetes, may have persistent memory problems, according to a new study from researchers at the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain.

Diabetic ketoacidosis occurs when the body is lacking insulin and burns fat for energy instead of sugar. Apart from nausea, vomiting and fatigue, patients can feel mentally sluggish. If the condition is not treated, patients may fall into a coma. The new study, published online Oct. 15 in the Journal of Pediatrics, shows that children known to have had such an episode in the past performed worse on memory tests than children with diabetes who had not had such an episode.

Diabetic ketoacidosis -- and its consequences -- can be avoided with proper glucose control in patients known to have diabetes, said Simona Ghetti, associate professor at the UC Davis Department of Psychology and the Center for Mind and Brain. Many cases, however, occur at the time of diagnosis of diabetes and these cases are more difficult to detect early.

"These results underscore the importance of maintaining control of known diabetes and prompt diagnosis of new cases should diabetic ketoacidosis symptoms arise," Ghetti said.

The UC Davis researchers studied 33 children with type 1 diabetes and a history of diabetic ketoacidosis, and 29 diabetic children with no history of such an episode. They compared the children's ability to recall events and associations, as measured by simple tests.

Children with a history of ketoacidosis performed significantly worse on the memory tests than children without a history, they found.

The results back up anecdotal accounts from parents, who complain of slight but consistent memory deficits in their children with type 1 (insulin-dependent) diabetes that are not captured by IQ measures or other typical assessments, such as school grades, Ghetti said.

Co-authors on the paper are UC Davis psychology graduate students Joshua Lee and Dana DeMaster; Nicole Glaser, associate professor of pediatrics at UC Davis; and Clare Sims, graduate student at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

The work was supported by a Young Investigator Research Award to Ghetti from the Children's Miracle Network.

About UC Davis

For 100 years, UC Davis has engaged in teaching, research and public service that matter to California and transform the world. Located close to the state capital, UC Davis has 31,000 students, an annual research budget that exceeds $500 million, a comprehensive health system and 13 specialized research centers. The university offers interdisciplinary graduate study and more than 100 undergraduate majors in four colleges -- Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Biological Sciences, Engineering, and Letters and Science -- and advanced degrees from six professional schools -- Education, Law, Management, Medicine, Veterinary Medicine and the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing.

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