BACKGROUND: The pharmacotherapeutic guidelines for type 2 diabetes have changed considerably during the past decades. SGLT2 inhibitors and GLP-1 receptor agonists have emerged as first-line agents by preventing cardiovascular events within a few years of treatment. In contrast, sulphonylureas and insulin have been deprioritised due to less beneficial effects and the risk of hypoglycaemia-particularly in older people who are frail. We hypothesised that medications with a high risk of hypoglycaemia were used more often in older people compared with younger people.

METHODS: In a nationwide cohort of people with type 2 diabetes in Denmark from 2019 to 2020, we described the use of specific glucose-lowering medications in relation to age and glycated haemoglobin A1C (HbA1c) by descriptive statistics and regression models adjusted for sex, socioeconomic factors, renal function, and several comorbidities.

FINDINGS: Among 290 890 people with type 2 diabetes, glucose-lowering medication usage peaked at age 70 years. Increasing age was associated with relatively less use of metformin, GLP-1 receptor agonists, and SGLT2 inhibitors and more use of basal insulin, DDP-4 inhibitors, and sulphonylureas. When comparing 80-year-olds with 60-year-olds at similar HbA1c levels of 6·5% (48 mmol/mol), 80-year-olds used 8% (95% CI 7-10%) fewer glucose-lowering medications, were 55% less likely to receive GLP-1 receptor agonists or SGLT2 inhibitors (relative ratio 0·45, 95% CI 0·42-0·48), and 65% more likely to receive sulphonylureas (1·65, 1·54-1·76). Among 23 032 individuals aged 80 years or older with HbA1c levels of less than 6·5% (<48 mmol/mol), 2291 (10%) used sulphonylureas or insulin.

INTERPRETATION: In Danish people with type 2 diabetes, the likelihood of using glucose-lowering medications with a high risk of hypoglycaemia (eg, sulphonylureas and basal insulin) increased with age, whereas the likelihood of using GLP-1 receptor agonists and SGLT2 inhibitors decreased. Some people aged 80 years or older with an HbA1c level of less than 6·5% (48 mmol/mol) were potentially overtreated with sulphonylureas or insulin. These findings emphasise the importance of frequently re-evaluating glucose-lowering treatments.


TRANSLATION: For the Danish translation of the abstract see Supplementary Materials section.

Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Lancet Healthy Longevity
Issue number12
Pages (from-to)e685-e692
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023


  • Aged
  • Humans
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2/drug therapy
  • Glucagon-Like Peptide-1 Receptor/agonists
  • Glycated Hemoglobin
  • Hypoglycemia/chemically induced
  • Hypoglycemic Agents/therapeutic use
  • Insulin/therapeutic use
  • Sodium-Glucose Transporter 2 Inhibitors/therapeutic use
  • Sulfonylurea Compounds/therapeutic use
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Age Factors
  • Healthcare Disparities


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