Non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) is increasing in incidence as the population in most countries ages. Multiple pathology is common in the elderly, and cardiovascular disease is usually present at diagnosis. Patients who develop NIDDM at age 65 years may live long enough to develop microvascular complications. Others who are frail and have multiple pathologies may require treatment to prevent both symptomatic hyperglycaemia and dehydration, whilst avoiding hypoglycaemia. The goals in the management of NIDDM in elderly people are the prevention of complications and the relief of symptoms. Treatment must be tailored to the individual's expectations and should be reviewed regularly with the changing circumstances of aging. If dietary measures fail to control glucose levels, antihyperglycaemic sulphonylureas are the most frequently prescribed form of treatment. However, concern over the potential of these drugs to cause hypoglycaemia limits the choice to second generation sulphonylureas, agents that preserve the first phase of insulin release and have non-biologically active metabolites that are promptly eliminated. The biguanide agent metformin is also appropriate in elderly obese patients with NIDDM who do not have renal, liver or cardiac failure. The combination of a sulphonylurea and metformin can be effective in patients in whom insulin would otherwise be required. Novel compounds such as acarbose and the thiazolinediones may also be useful in the treatment of older diabetic patients.