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Potential diabetes overtreatment and risk of adverse events among older adults in Ontario: a population-based study

Lega IC, Campitelli MA, Austin PC, Na Y, Zahedi A, Leung F, Yu C, Bronskill SE, Rochon PA, Lipscombe LL. Diabetologia. 2021; 64(5):1093-102. Epub 2021 Jan 25. DOI:

Aim/Hypothesis — More than 25% of older adults (age ≥75 years) have diabetes and may be at risk of adverse events related to treatment. The aim of this study was to assess the prevalence of intensive glycaemic control in this group, potential overtreatment among older adults and the impact of overtreatment on the risk of serious events.

Methods — We conducted a retrospective, population-based cohort study of community-dwelling older adults in Ontario using administrative data. Participants were ≥75 years of age with diagnosed diabetes treated with at least one anti-hyperglycaemic agent between 2014 and 2015. Individuals were categorised as having intensive or conservative glycaemic control (HbA1c <53 mmol/mol [<7%] or 54–69 mmol/mol [7.1–8.5%], respectively), and as undergoing treatment with high-risk (i.e. insulin, sulfonylureas) or low-risk (other) agents. We measured the composite risk of emergency department visits, hospitalisations, or death within 30 days of reaching intensive glycaemic control with high-risk agents.

Results — Among 108,620 older adults with diagnosed diabetes in Ontario, the mean (± SD) age was 80.6 (±4.5) years, 49.7% were female, and mean (± SD) diabetes duration was 13.7 (±6.3) years. Overall, 61% of individuals were treated to intensive glycaemic control and 21.6% were treated to intensive control using high-risk agents. Using inverse probability treatment weighting with propensity scores, intensive control with high-risk agents was associated with nearly 50% increased risk of the composite outcome compared with conservative glycaemic control with low-risk agents (RR 1.49, 95% CI 1.08, 2.05).

Conclusions/Interpretation — Our findings underscore the need to re-evaluate glycaemic targets in older adults and to reconsider the use of anti-hyperglycaemic medications that may lead to hypoglycaemia, especially in setting of intensive glycaemic control.