Frailty and older adults

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The benefits of intensive treatment of T2DM should be balanced against the risk of potential hypoglycaemia and the consequence of falls, fractures and hospitalisation.

A frailty assessment should be a routine component of a diabetes review for all older adults, considering comorbidities, dementia or limited life expectancy.

Benefits of intensive treatment of T2DM

  • Reduce incidence of complications (Polypharmacy Guidance8);
  • symptomatic hyperglycaemia control (avoidance of polyuria, dehydration, fatigue and renal insufficiency); and
  • avoidance of osmotic symptoms and reduced symptomatic hyperglycaemia.


Frailty in the older adult and associated risks

  • accelerated ageing process and muscle loss with frailty, important new complications of diabetes50
  • increased likelihood of hypoglycaemia due to lack of sensory awareness and increased vulnerability to its consequences, including falls, fractures and hospitalisation; and
  • co-morbidities such as CKD which may require dose adjustment.


A number of international guidelines on the management of diabetes in the older and/or frailer adult have been published with recommendations based on consensus opinion. The following recommendations, shown in the table below, are informed by the National Collaborative Stakeholder Initiative50 and supported by the expert working groups, for this guidance and the Polypharmacy guidance, and include the Rockwood Clinical Frailty Scale (CFS).51 The glycaemic target ranges below are consensus based, recommending therapeutic targets and treatment de-escalation thresholds, with a focus on patient safety and enhancing clinical outcomes.



Actions to be considered

  • Timely medication review and deprescribing are key components in the management of people with frailty, depending on the level of frailty and HbA1c levels. The 7 steps approach as described in the Scottish Government Polypharmacy Guidance is recommended.
  • Treatment goals should be individualised with care planning reflecting the older and/or frailer person’s functional status, co-morbidities and life expectancy (see individualisation of glycaemic control).
  • Review of drug choices in the frail older adult with diabetes should take account of potential side-effects including polydipsia, weight loss and candidiasis in addition to hypoglycaemia risk and declining renal function (see the table above and prescribing choices in the section on cardiovascular and renal risk).
  • Simplify, switch or de-escalate therapies that may induce hypoglycaemia, such as sulfonylureas (as below) and shorter-acting insulins.
  • See Summary of the benefits and cautions for anti-diabetic therapies for further information on prescribing options.


See case study 5


National Therapeutic Indicator

Prescribing of sulfonylureas in those aged 75 years or over



There should be a low percentage of those aged 75 years or over prescribed sulfonylureas (SU).

This indicator continues to show that there are high levels of SU prescribing in those aged 75 years or over. Although this has reduced, current data shows that across Scotland a significant proportion of those aged 75 years or over are still being prescribed an SU, increasing their risks of hypoglycaemia and subsequent falls and hospitalization.

Other therapies are available with long term outcome data and lower risk of hypoglycaemia that may be more appropriate.