Progress Made in Diabetes, but Dangers Still Exist for Seniors

Diabetes has been an increasing issue in the United States. While there are already close to 30 million Americans with diabetes, there are far more who have what is being called prediabetes.

As of 2012, 86 million Americans aged 20 years and older had prediabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prediabetes is a condition where an individual has a blood sugar level that is higher than normal, but not yet high enough to be classified as type 2 diabetes. Without intervention, prediabetes often turns into full-blown diabetes within a decade.

However, despite the dire picture the prevalence of diabetes and prediabetes in the US paints, the CDC also had some good news. The number of new cases of diabetes is actually decreasing. In 2009, the CDC reported 1.7 million new cases of diabetes, but in 2014, there were only 1.4 million new cases.

Overall, while progress is being made, diabetes remains an epidemic and there is a long way to go in the US before success can be claimed.

Among senior citizens the prevalence of diabetes is higher than the general population, and a new study from January 2015 found that older diabetics are being overtreated for their disease.

The study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, found that nearly two-thirds of patients with diabetes aged 65 years and older received aggressive treatment for their disease regardless of their health status and blood sugar levels. This sort of aggressive treatment in seniors could result in hypoglycemia, which leads to confusion, coma, and even death.

“We treat diabetes to prevent complications of the disease by lowering blood sugar levels, but the problem with aggressively lowering blood sugars — to a hemoglobin A1c below 7% — in older people is that it is uncertain whether this approach will result in a benefit, and it could, in fact, cause greater harm,” lead author Kasia Lipska, MD, MHS, assistant professor of internal medicine at Yale School of Medicine, said in a statement. “Our study suggests that we have a one-size-fits-all approach despite questionable benefits and known risks.”