Many older adults with diabetes are controlling their blood sugar levels too tightly, exposing them to potential harm, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Internal Medicine.
Generally speaking, tight blood sugar control is often a key goal of diabetes treatment. Patients with diabetes either don’t produce insulin—a hormone needed to convert sugar into energy—or can’t process it, which can lead to dangerous spikes in blood sugar. Keeping blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible can help prevent complications and help patients with diabetes live a long and healthy life. However, tight blood sugar control is not right for everyone, especially for older adults with other health conditions. In fact, the American Diabetes Association and American Geriatrics Society endorse a higher, less stringent blood sugar target for older patients because it could do more harm than good.
For this reason, researchers used national data to see how many older patients with diabetes were over-treated in the United States between 2001 and 2010. A total of 1,288 diabetic adults older than 65 years old were included in the study, 61.5% of whom had tight blood sugar control based on their hemoglobin A1c level. Among those with tight blood sugar control, a little more than half relied on drugs like insulin and sulfonylureas that lower blood sugar levels. And overall, half of all older adults with diabetes had complex or poor health.
Based on analysis, researchers believe that many older adults with diabetes are potentially over-treated, striving for too tight of blood sugar control. Most older adults with tight blood sugar control achieved this with the help of medications, and it’s well-known that these drugs can lead to low blood sugar called hypoglycemia. Low blood sugar can be very dangerous, causing blurred vision, seizures and unconsciousness, and it’s estimated that blood sugar-lowering drugs are to blame for one-fourth of emergency hospitalizations for adverse drug events in older adults. Study findings highlight the need for increased awareness around the dangers of tight blood sugar control in older adults to avoid over-treating older adults with diabetes.