Evaluating the Prevalence of Type 1 Diabetes Diagnoses in Older Adults

Many people still refer to type 1 diabetes as juvenile diabetes because approximately 85% of individuals with T1D are diagnosed in childhood. When diagnosis occurs in adulthood, it is often type 2 diabetes. However, T1D can occur at any age, and more adults are being diagnosed after age 30. Though it still only accounts for approximately 4% of T1D cases, a correct diagnosis is imperative for proper treatment of the disease.

Because a higher proportion of adults develop T2D, some who actually have T1D may be misdiagnosed. A recent study compared data for 379,511 white European individuals registered with UK Biobank.  Of those individuals 13,250 developed diabetes by age 60. When divided between those with high versus low genetic risk of T1D, there were 1,286 more people diagnosed with T1D in the high-risk group than in the low-risk group.

Compared to individuals with T2D, those with type 1 tended to have lower BMIs, relied on insulin use within the first year after diagnosis, and were at higher risk for developing diabetic ketoacidosis. Some type 2 individuals were actually found to have type 1 diabetes instead when it was realized that their diabetes was not well managed using strategies other than insulin, and that they required increasingly higher doses.

There have been very few studies conducted on the prevalence of T1D diagnosis in older adults because so many individuals are diagnosed at a young age. Testing for autoantibodies and C-peptide can be very beneficial, but it is not always accurate in confirming a diagnosis because some people have false positives. However, it can be used to help differentiate between T1D and T2D and more accurately diagnose adults.

“I recently diagnosed someone with new-onset T1D at 82 years old. We are definitely seeing more of this. Especially when we test for the antibodies as soon as possible,” says one of the Diabetes Research Connection’s esteemed Scientific Review Committee members, Dr. Athena Philis-Tsimikas.

The combination of genetic susceptibility and antibody testing has helped to raise awareness of the number of adults being newly diagnosed with T1D, though more research is still needed. It is essential that individuals be correctly diagnosed as soon as possible in order to receive the most effective treatment for managing their diabetes.

The Diabetes Research Connection (DRC) strives to provide valuable funding for early career scientists who are researching type 1 diabetes so that they can advance understanding, diagnosis, and treatment of the disease and one day find a cure. Learn more about current research projects and how to help by visiting http://diabetesresearchconnection.org.

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