The management of diabetes mellitus in older individuals

Drugs. 1991 Apr;41(4):548-65. doi: 10.2165/00003495-199141040-00004.


Nearly 50% of individuals with type II diabetes mellitus are over the age of 65 years. There are numerous reasons to maintain blood glucose levels below 11.1 nmol/L (200 mg/dl) in older persons, and there are a number of changes often seen with advancing age that persons, and there are a number of changes often seen with advancing age that may interfere with the management of diabetes mellitus, e.g. hypodipsia, anorexia, visual disturbance, altered renal and hepatic function, depression, impaired basoreceptor response and multiple medications. Hyperglycaemia appears to produce cognitive impairment which may lead to poor compliance. It is often difficult to manipulate diet in older people, and in fact dietary changes can lead to severe protein energy malnutrition. High maximum voluntary oxygen intake has been correlated with increased glucose disposal, but there is little evidence that physical exercise can improve diabetic control in the elderly. Oral sulphonylurea hypoglycaemic agents are extremely useful in the treatment of diabetes in these patients, but it should be remembered that they are more liable to develop hypoglycaemia than are younger diabetics. The role of metformin in the management of older diabetic patients is poorly studied. Many older persons can cope well with insulin therapy, but those with visual disturbances often make errors when drawing up insulin and require special attention. Combination therapy of insulin with oral hypoglycaemic agents is not recommended in this group of patients, and serum fructosamine is preferred to glycated haemoglobin to monitor control. Successful management of elderly diabetic patients thus requires an interdisciplinary team approach.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / blood*
  • Aging / metabolism
  • Blood Glucose
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2* / complications
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2* / diet therapy
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2* / drug therapy
  • Drug Interactions
  • Exercise
  • Humans
  • Hyperglycemia / prevention & control
  • Hypoglycemia / etiology
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Patient Compliance


  • Blood Glucose
  • Hypoglycemic Agents