Older people with diabetes and memory problems would benefit from using wearable glucose monitors, a study suggests.
The devices help people with diabetes manage their condition by reducing the need for finger-prick blood tests.
Researchers from the University of East Anglia trialled the monitors with 12 participants who had an average age of 85 and were experiencing memory problems or had a diagnosis of dementia.
The devices captured data across 14 days.
The research team interviewed the participants and carers afterwards to see how they got on with using the devices, and they said most spoke favourably about them.
Lead researcher Dr Katharina Mattishent, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: “Older people with memory problems can find it more difficult to keep an eye on their blood sugars.
“Older methods of checking blood sugars rely on people doing finger-prick tests.
“The newest technology works by allowing a sensor inserted under the skin on the arm to pick up sugar readings all the time for up to two weeks without having to do finger-prick tests.
“The sensor reads sugar levels and transmits them wirelessly to a display on a portable reader held near the sensor – a bit like swiping a contactless bank card.”
The Freestyle Libre flash glucose monitoring system, used by former prime minister Theresa May, was made available on the NHS in 2017.
While they have been approved, mainly for younger adults, they are not universally available.
“It is estimated that up to 20% of older people with dementia also have coexisting diabetes,” said Dr Mattishent.
“It’s a big problem because they may be more prone to low blood sugars (hypoglycaemia) from their medication, but not recognising the warning signs – or what to do if it happens.
“This is the first project to see if new wearable glucose monitoring technology could be useful for older people with diabetes and memory problems.”
Prof Yoon Loke, also from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: “Our study found that older people and their carers overwhelmingly found the device to be acceptable to use and reassuring to be able to check sugar levels more easily.
“It didn’t interfere with their day-to-day activities and they were not aware of the device while sleeping at night.
“Carers spoke favourably about the simplicity of the device.
“And all of the participants were positive about recommending it to others.
“One of the carers said that it is very stressful to have to regularly stab her husband’s fingers to get blood samples.
“He had dementia and diabetes, and couldn’t understand why anyone needed to hurt him with a needle.
“So you can see how something as simple as using this device could really benefit this vulnerable group and their carers.”
One problem was that data recorded was not always complete because it relied on participants or their carers “swiping” three scans a day,” Prof Loke said.
“Real-time devices that automatically record and send the data through Bluetooth may therefore be even more beneficial for people with memory problems,” he added.
Dr James Pickett, head of research at the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “Devices which continuously monitor people with dementia could help keep them out of hospital, preventing unnecessary distress, and saving the NHS money.”
– The research, carried out with the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, is published in the journal BMJ Open.