Drugs & Aging

, Volume 25, Issue 11, pp 913–925 | Cite as

New Approaches to Treating Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus in the Elderly

Role of Incretin Therapies
  • Angela M. Abbatecola
  • Stefania Maggi
  • Giuseppe Paolisso
Review Article


The increasing proportion of elderly persons in the global population, and the implications of this trend in terms of increasing rates of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes mellitus, continue to be a cause for concern for clinicians and healthcare policy makers. The diagnosis and treatment of type 2 diabetes in the elderly is challenging, as age-related changes alter the clinical presentation of diabetic symptoms. Once type 2 diabetes is diagnosed, the principles of its management are similar to those in younger patients, but with special considerations linked to the increased prevalence of co-morbidities and relative inability to tolerate the adverse effects of medication and hypoglycaemia. In addition, there are many underappreciated factors complicating diabetes care in the elderly, including cognitive disorders, physical disability and geriatric syndromes, such as frailty, urinary incontinence and pain. Available oral antihyperglycaemic drugs include insulin secretagogues (meglitinides and sulfonylureas), biguanides (metformin), α-glucosidase inhibitors and thiazolidinediones. Unfortunately, as type 2 diabetes progresses in older persons, polypharmacy intensification is required to achieve adequate glycaemic control with the attendant increased risk of adverse effects as a result of age-related changes in drug metabolism. The recent introduction of the incretins, a group of intestinal peptides that enhance insulin secretion after ingestion of food, as novel oral antihyperglycaemic treatments may prove significant in older persons. The two main categories of incretin therapy currently available are: glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) analogues and inhibitors of GLP-1 degrading enzyme dipeptidyl peptidase-4 (DPP-4). The present review discusses the effect of aging on metabolic control in elderly patients with type 2 diabetes, the current treatments used to treat this population and some of the more recent advances in the field of geriatric type 2 diabetes. In particular, we highlight the efficacy and safety of GLP-1 and DPP-4 inhibitors, administered as monotherapy or in combination with other oral antihyperglycaemic agents, especially when the relevant clinical trials included older persons. There is strong evidence that use of incretin therapy, in particular, the DPP-4 inhibitors, could offer significant advantages in older persons. Clinical evidence suggests that the DPP-4 inhibitors vildagliptin and sitagliptin are particularly suitable for frail and debilitated elderly patients because of their excellent tolerability profiles. Importantly, these agents lack the gastrointestinal effects seen with metformin and α-glucosidase inhibitors taken alone, and have a low risk of the hypoglycaemic events commonly seen with agents that directly lower blood glucose levels.


Metformin Glycaemic Control Liraglutide Acarbose Insulin Glargine 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



No sources of funding were used to assist in the preparation of this review. The authors have no conflicts of interest that are directly relevant to the content of this review.


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Copyright information

© Adis Data Information BV 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Angela M. Abbatecola
    • 1
  • Stefania Maggi
    • 2
  • Giuseppe Paolisso
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Geriatric Medicine and Metabolic Diseases, VI Divisione di Medicina InternaSecond University of NaplesNapoliItaly
  2. 2.CNR Aging BranchPadovaItaly

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