Clinical Geriatrics - Reviews
Submitted: 2021-10-05
Published: 2021-12-16

Prescribing, monitoring, and deprescribing drugs in geriatric DM patients

Department of Biomedical Experimental and Clinical Science, University of Florence, Florence, Italy; Italian Society of Diabetology, Rome, Italy
Department of Biomedical Experimental and Clinical Science, University of Florence, Florence, Italy; Italian Society of Diabetology, Rome, Italy
drugs geriatric DM patients


  1. Blood sugar targets in persons aged over 75 should be individualized, taking into account the clinical characteristics of the patient and potential adverse effects of the antidiabetic drug prescribed.
  2. The therapeutic target for glycated hemoglobin should be determined for each individual patient, taking into consideration life expectancy and the benefits and risks of improved blood sugar control.
  3. Higher glycated hemoglobin targets may be used in situations where the patient needs to use drugs that can cause hypoglycemia (e.g., insulin); in the event that glucose and glycated hemoglobin levels start to approach normal levels, the pharmacological therapy should be reduced to lower the risk of hypoglycemia.
  4. Deprescription of antidiabetic drugs should be considered if the patient’s glycated hemoglobin level falls below 6.5% (48 mmol/mol), even if the patient has no side effects or the drug is not a medication that causes hypoglycemia.


The quality of the evidence is low. Recommendations are mostly based on best practice and only partially supported by published evidence.


See appendix.


Well-designed observational studies and randomized clinical trials are needed for a better definition of clinical decisions on deprescription in the elderly. Such studies should include adequate numbers of patients with advanced aged and they should be focused on appropriate outcomes, which could differ from those usually considered in younger individuals.


Geriatric DM patients are heterogeneous in terms of varying ages of disease onset, clinical characteristics, comorbidities 1, pathogenesis, and pathophysiology 2. Available data indicate that increases in post-prandial glycemia contribute more to hyperglycemia in patients over 65 years old than in younger ones 3, suggesting an age-related progressive decline in insulin secretion related to eating 4,5. Clinical and pathophysiological differences are compounded by differences in the risk of diabetic complications: although the risk of cardiovascular disease progressively increases with increasing age 6, the relative increase in cardiovascular risk is lower in late-onset DM compared to earlier-onset cases 1. Therefore, pharmacological therapy for DM in geriatric patients needs to be individualized, taking into account the duration and complications of DM, functioning, comorbidities, life expectancy, the presence of a caregiver, and the ability to follow complex treatments 7.


The aim of DM treatment is to avoid acute and chronic complications. In geriatric patients, the expected benefit of well-controlled glucose for preventing chronic complications is inversely related to life expectancy. In addition, the risk of certain drug-related adverse effects, such as severe hypoglycemia, is higher in geriatric patients, especially those with comorbidities 8. Cardiovascular diseases account for more than half of deaths in geriatric DM patients as well as many hospitalizations 9, especially in frail patients 10. On the other hand, given that the risk of major cardiovascular events associated with DM is lower in older than younger adults 11, it may be less beneficial to treat hyperglycemia in older than younger individuals. Data on the long-term effects of improved blood sugar control on cardiovascular risk have mostly focused on patients under 75 years 12,13; in the ACCORD study, age over 79 was an exclusion criterion 14. In the ADVANCE study, a sub-group analysis was conducted on patients over 65 years of age, which showed no differences between the intensified treatment arm and the control group, but not for those over 75 years of age 15.

To a large extent, guidelines suggest higher blood-glucose targets for geriatric patients, especially if they have reduced autonomy, frailty, or comorbidities. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends a therapeutic HbA1c target of 7.5% (58 mmol/mol) for relatively healthy geriatric patients, and higher targets (8.0-8.5%, 64-69 mmol/mol or more) for those with severe comorbidities, disability, disability, or reduced life expectancy (7). The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) also suggest a more ambitious target for geriatric patients (below 6.5%/48 mmol/mol, provided it can be safely achieved), while for those with severe comorbidities, a high risk of hypoglycemia, or limited life expectancy a more conservative therapeutic approach is suggested, without HbA1c targets, aiming only to treat symptomatic hyperglycemia 16. The American College of Physicians (ACP) also do not recommend a specific HbA1c target for patients over 80 years of age, with a life expectancy of less than 10 years, or major comorbidities, but they recognize the need to avoid continued hyperglycemia and severe hypoglycemia in geriatric patients and, thus, propose an optimal HbA1c range rather than a maximum threshold. The ACP guidelines recommend that treatment should be increased in geriatric patients when their HbA1c levels exceed 7-8% (53-64 mmol/mol) and reduced when HbA1c is below 6.5% (48 mmol/mol) 17. The Italian guidelines recommend a more ambitious target (HbA1c 7%/53 mmol/mol), if this can be achieved without using drugs that could lead to hypoglycemia (i.e., insulin, sulfonylureas, or glinides), without setting a minimum target. However, if insulin or insulin secretagogues are used, HbA1c should be maintained in the range of 7-7.5% (53-58 mmol/mol) in relatively healthy geriatric patients, or 7.5-8% (58-64 mmol/mol) in individuals with frailty, comorbidities, or cognitive decline 18.


Deprescribing unnecessary drugs in geriatric patients is a strategy that aims to improve quality of care while reducing costs 19. Current guidelines on the management of DM recommend higher therapeutic targets in geriatric patients, especially those who are frail or have comorbidities 18; more in general, overtreatment should be avoided in geriatric or frail patients, with an indication to reduce drugs where possible 18,20. However, there is no clear indication as to when and how to deprescribe drugs. There has been an attempt to create evidence-based guidelines for the deprescription of antidiabetic drugs in geriatric patients 21, but only observational studies with poor methodology are available 22. A recent systematic review found ten observational studies 23 reporting either deprescription of antidiabetic drugs or therapeutic modifications to prescribe safer drugs 24,25. Studies carried out on geriatric, frail persons living in long-term care facilities, where drugs were stopped or substantially reduced in patients with good glucose control, showed a reduced risk of hypoglycemia, without HbA1c increasing above age-specified targets 25-27. In contrast, a retrospective study of geriatric DM patients who were discharged after acute myocardial infarction showed that suspending antihyperglycemic therapy was associated with increased mortality 28. While the available evidence shows encouraging results in terms of controlling glycemic metabolism, it does not provide any information on possible predictors of metabolic outcomes. This could explain why very few geriatric patients with reduced HbA1c undergo deprescription 29-31, unless they report hypoglycemia 32 or drug-related adverse effects 21.



Ethical consideration




Conflict of interest

EM received speaking/consultancy fees from Boehringer Ingelheim, Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi; the Unit headed by EM received research grants from Daichi Sankyo, Eli Lilly, Genentech, Novo Nordisk. AS ha no conflicts to declare.

Figures and tables

This statement is:□ Recommendation (supported by published evidence)⊠ Best practice (supported by expert opinion) Quality of the evidence (in the case of recommendation):⊠ Low□ Moderate□ High


  1. Barnett KN, McMurdo MET, Ogston SA. Mortality in people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at an older age: a systematic review. Age Ageing. 2006; 35:463-468. DOI
  2. Ahlqvist E, Storm P, Käräjämäki A. Novel subgroups of adult-onset diabetes and their association with outcomes: a data-driven cluster analysis of six variables. Lancet Diabetes Endocrinol. 2018; 6:361-369. DOI
  3. Munshi MN, Pandya N, Umpierrez GE. Contributions of basal and prandial hyperglycemia to total hyperglycemia in older and younger adults with type 2 diabetes mellitus. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2013; 61:535-541. DOI
  4. Giddings SJ, Carnaghi LR, Mooradian AD. Age-related changes in pancreatic islet cell gene expression. Metabolism. 1995; 44:320-324. DOI
  5. Chang AM, Halter JB. Aging and insulin secretion. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2003; 284:E7-E12. DOI
  6. Zoungas S, Woodward M, Li Q. Impact of age, age at diagnosis and duration of diabetes on the risk of macrovascular and microvascular complications and death in type 2 diabetes. Diabetologia. 2014; 57:2465-2474. DOI
  7. American Diabetes Association. 12. Older adults: standards of medical care in diabetes, 2020. Diabetes Care. 2020; 43:S152-S162. DOI
  8. Freeman J. Management of hypoglycemia in older adults with type 2 diabetes. Postgrad Med. 2019; 131:241-250. DOI
  9. Hillier TA, Pedula KL. Complications in young adults with early-onset type 2 diabetes: losing the relative protection of youth. Diabetes Care. 2003; 26:2999-3005. DOI
  10. Ida S, Kaneko R, Imataka K. Relationship between frailty and mortality, hospitalization, and cardiovascular diseases in diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Cardiovasc Diabetol. 2019; 18:81. DOI
  11. Sesti G, Antonelli Incalzi R, Bonora E. Management of diabetes in older adults. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2018; 28:206-218. DOI
  12. Duckworth W, Abraira C, Moritz T. Glucose control and vascular complications in veterans with type 2 diabetes. N Engl J Med. 2009; 360:129-139. DOI
  13. Holman RR, Paul SK, Bethel MA. 10-year follow-up of intensive glucose control in type 2 diabetes. N Engl J Med. 2008; 359:1577-1589. DOI
  14. Action to control cardiovascular risk in diabetes study group. Effects of intensive glucose lowering in type 2 diabetes. N Engl J Med. 2008; 358:2545-2559. DOI
  15. Patel A, MacMahon S, Chalmers J. Intensive blood glucose control and vascular outcomes in patients with type 2 diabetes. N Engl J Med. 2008; 358:2560-2572. DOI
  16. Garber AJ, Abrahamson MJ, Barzilay JI. Consensus statement by the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists and American College of Endocrinology on the comprehensive type 2 diabetes management algorithm - 2018 executive summary. Endocr Pract. 2018; 24:91-120. DOI
  17. Qaseem A, Wilt TJ, Kansagara D. Hemoglobin A1c targets for glycemic control with pharmacologic therapy for nonpregnant adults with type 2 diabetes mellitus: a guidance statement update from the American College of Physicians. Ann Intern Med. 2018; 168:569-576. DOI
  18. Medical Diabetologist Association, Italian Society of Diabetology. Italian standards for diabetes mellitus care - 2018.Publisher Full Text
  19. Farrell B, Pottie K, Rojas-Fernandez CH. Methodology for developing deprescribing guidelines: using evidence and GRADE to guide recommendations for deprescribing. PLoS One. 2016; 11:e0161248. DOI
  20. American Geriatrics Society 2012 Beers Criteria Update Expert Panel. American Geriatrics Society updated Beers Criteria for potentially inappropriate medication use in older adults. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2012; 60:616-631. DOI
  21. Farrell B, Black C, Thompson W. Deprescribing antihyperglycemic agents in older persons: Evidence-based clinical practice guideline. Can Fam Physician. 2017; 63:832-843.
  22. Black CD, Thompson W, Welch V. Lack of evidence to guide deprescribing of antihyperglycemics: a systematic review. Diabetes Ther. 2017; 8:23-31. DOI
  23. Seidu S, Kunutsor SK, Topsever P. Deintensification in older patients with type 2 diabetes: a systematic review of approaches, rates and outcomes. Diabetes Obes Metab. 2019; 21:1668-1679. DOI
  24. Skoff RA, Waterbury NV, Shaw RF. Glycemic control and hypoglycemia in Veterans Health Administration patients converted from glyburide to glipizide. J Manag Care Pharm. 2011; 17:664-671. DOI
  25. Hui RL, Chang CC, Niu F. Evaluation of a pharmacist-managed antidiabetic deprescribing program in an integrated health care system. J Manag Care Spec Pharm. 2019; 25:927-934. DOI
  26. Abdelhafiz AH, Chakravorty P, Gupta S. Can hypoglycaemic medications be withdrawn in older people with type 2 diabetes?. Int J Clin Pract. 2014; 68:790-792. DOI
  27. Sjöblom P, Tengblad A, Löfgren U-B. Can diabetes medication be reduced in elderly patients? An observational study of diabetes drug withdrawal in nursing home patients with tight glycaemic control. Diabetes Res Clin Pract. 2008; 82:197-202. DOI
  28. Lipska KJ, Wang Y, Kosiborod M. Discontinuation of antihyperglycemic therapy and clinical outcomes after acute myocardial infarction in older patients with diabetes. Circ Cardiovasc Qual Outcomes. 2010; 3:236-242. DOI
  29. Yotsapon T, Sirinate K, Ekgaluck W. Clinical characteristics and outcomes of the oldest old people with type 2 diabetes – perspective from a tertiary diabetes center in Thailand. BMC Endocr Disord. 2016; 16:30. DOI
  30. Pirela DV, Garg R. De-intensification of diabetes treatment in elderly patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Endocr Pract. 2019; 25:1317-1322. DOI
  31. Erah PO, Eroje HI. Prescribing of antidiabetic medicines to older diabetes type 2 patients in Lagos, Nigeria. Nig Q J Hosp Med. 2013; 23:12-16.
  32. Vimalananda VG, DeSotto K, Chen T. A quality improvement program to reduce potential overtreatment of diabetes among veterans at high risk of hypoglycemia. Diabetes Spectr. 2017; 30:211-216. DOI


Edoardo Mannucci

Department of Biomedical Experimental and Clinical Science, University of Florence, Florence, Italy; Italian Society of Diabetology, Rome, Italy

Antonio Silverii

Department of Biomedical Experimental and Clinical Science, University of Florence, Florence, Italy; Italian Society of Diabetology, Rome, Italy



How to Cite

Mannucci, E. and Silverii, A. 2021. Prescribing, monitoring, and deprescribing drugs in geriatric DM patients. JOURNAL OF GERONTOLOGY AND GERIATRICS. 69, 4 (Dec. 2021), 282-285. DOI:
  • Abstract viewed - 660 times
  • PDF downloaded - 170 times