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Is strict glycemic control meaningless for older adults?



– The question of whether or not strict glycemic control is appropriate for older adults was the subject of a debate between two experts at the 2019 congress of the International Diabetes Federation.

Current guidelines from the Endocrine Society addressing diabetes management in older adults call for shared decision making and individualized approaches, taking into account comorbidities, complications, and special situations.

Medha Munshi, MD, and Ryo Suzuki, MD, PhD, took differing approaches to the risk-versus-benefit equation for older patients.

The case against ...

Dr. Munshi, director of the Joslin geriatric diabetes program at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, started the debate by stating, “Yes, strict glycemic control in the elderly is meaningless.”

She based this on two main points: The benefits of strict glycemic control in older adults are not clear, and the risks are “catastrophic and well documented.”

The first problem, said Dr. Munshi, is that there is a dearth of data in older adults. In a 2013 review of 2,484 diabetes-focused studies registered on, just 0.6% included participants who were older than 65 years, whereas 30.8% specifically excluded that age group, and 54.9% excluded people older than 70 years.

Another analysis of 440 studies that investigated treatments for type 2 diabetes showed that, of trials that did include older adults, more than three-quarters (76.8%) excluded those with comorbidities, nearly a third (29.5%) excluded people with polypharmacy or specific drugs, and 18.4% excluded those with cognitive impairment.

“So, the trials are not targeted toward older adults, and those that are, exclude people with multiple comorbidities, so the [participants] who are left in the trials are not [representative of the patients] we see in the clinic,” Dr. Munshi emphasized.

Among the major trials that evaluated intensive treatment versus usual care in type 2 diabetes – including the UK Prospective Diabetes Study (UKPDS), the Veterans Administration Diabetes Trial (VADT), and the Action to Control Cardiovascular Risk in Diabetes (ACCORD) trial – no macrovascular benefits were found except in UKPDS, and evidence of harm was found in ACCORD.

What those trials suggested, said Dr. Munshi, is that the patients who do better with intensive glycemic control are younger, have a shorter duration of disease, fewer complications and comorbidities at baseline, better overall health, and longer life expectancy.


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