Management of Hypoglycemia in Older Adults with Type 2 Diabetes

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Treatment of older adults with type 2 diabetes (T2D) is complex because they represent a heterogeneous group with a broad range of comorbidities, functional abilities, socioeconomic status, and life expectancy. Older adults with T2D are at high risk of recurring hypoglycemia, a condition associated with marked morbidity and mortality, because their counter-regulatory mechanism to hypoglycemia is attenuated, and recurring hypoglycemic episodes can lead to hypoglycemia unawareness. In addition, polypharmacy, a result of multiple chronic comorbidities (including heart disease, stroke, and chronic kidney disease), can increase the risk of severe hypoglycemia, especially when patients are taking sulfonylureas or insulin. Often the signs of hypoglycemia are nonspecific (sweating, dizziness, confusion, visual disturbances) and are mistaken for neurological symptoms or dementia. Consequences of hypoglycemia include acute and long-term cognitive changes, cardiac arrhythmia and myocardial infarction, serious falls, frailty, and death, often resulting in hospitalization, which come at a high economic cost. The American Diabetes Association has recently added three new recommendations regarding hypoglycemia in the elderly, highlighting individualized pharmacotherapy with glucose-lowering agents with a low risk of hypoglycemia and proven cardiovascular safety, avoidance of overtreatment, and simplifying treatment regimens while maintaining HbA1c targets. Thus, glycemic goals can be relaxed in the older population as part of individualized care, and physicians must make treatment decisions that best serve their patients' circumstances. This article highlights the issues faced by older people with T2D, the risk factors for hypoglycemia in this population, and the challenges faced by health care providers regarding glycemic management in this patient group.

Original languageAmerican English
JournalPostgraduate Medicine
StatePublished - Feb 6 2019


  • Hypoglycemia
  • elderly
  • polypharmacy
  • type 2 diabetes


  • Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism
  • Medicine and Health Sciences

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