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New approaches to treating type 2 diabetes mellitus in the elderly: role of incretin therapies

Angela M Abbatecola, Stefania Maggi, Giuseppe Paolisso
Drugs & Aging 2008, 25 (11): 913-25
18947259
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), alpha-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 alpha-glucosidase inhibitors taken alone, and have a low risk of the hypoglycaemic events commonly seen with agents that directly lower blood glucose levels.

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