Everyday forgetfulness is associated with forgetting to take diabetes medication

In this paper from the Australian MILES-2 dataset, we report on the relationship between everyday forgetfulness and an important aspect of diabetes self-care 

By Dr Steven Trawley

Medication taking is not straightforward. Depression, motivation, and financial cost have all been identified as potential barriers. While it is clear that a combination of personal and contextual factors are important, forgetfulness is frequently cited as the main reason for not taking medication among people with diabetes. Considering this, it is surprising that the majority of research in this area is focused on people’s ability to retrieve information from the past, and not on their intentions for the future (such as remembering to keep appointments or to pass on a message). This latter type of memory is known as ‘prospective memory’. 

Although taking medication is the classic example of prospective memory, only one published study has examined its role in diabetes medication taking. The authors found that worse performance on a computerised test of prospective memory was related to medication taking among older adults with type 2 diabetes. Surprisingly, since it was published in 2004, there had been no further publications on the topic of prospective memory and diabetes medication taking. 

The aim of our study was to re-examine this topic with data from the Australian Diabetes MILES-2 Study. Of the 1,828 Australians surveyed in this large, cross-sectional study, nearly a quarter reported forgetting their diabetes medication at least once over the previous two weeks. Although only three percent of people reporting forgetting their medication three or more times a week, there is evidence to suggest this rate of forgetting would lead to an increase of at least 0.5% HbA1c. In line with this, higher self-reported HbA1c was associated with forgetting diabetes medication over the previous two weeks for adults with type 1 diabetes. As expected, there was a relationship between self-reported prospective memory slips and forgetting diabetes medication. 

Some recent evidence suggests that prospective memory interventions can reduce medication forgetting in the short term. To what extent these approaches can be beneficial to people with diabetes, and how any improvement can be maintained over time is a worthwhile area for future research efforts. 

Trawley, S., Baptista, S., Pouwer, F., & Speight, J. (2019). Prospective memory slips are associated with forgetting to take glucose‐lowering therapies among adults with diabetes: results from the second Diabetes MILES–Australia (MILES‐2) survey. Diabetic Medicine, 36(5), 569-577.

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