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Original Investigation
September 23, 2019

Use and Discontinuation of Insulin Treatment Among Adults Aged 75 to 79 Years With Type 2 Diabetes

Author Affiliations
  • 1Division of Research,Kaiser Permanente of Northern California, Oakland
  • 2Department of Internal Medicine, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut
  • 3Section of General Internal Medicine, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
  • 4Chicago Center for Diabetes Translation Research, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
JAMA Intern Med. Published online September 23, 2019. doi:https://doi.org/10.1001/jamainternmed.2019.3759
Key Points

Question  Is insulin treatment used less frequently and discontinued more often among older individuals with poor health compared with those in good health?

Findings  In this cohort study of 21 531 adults, it was demonstrated that patients in poorer health were most likely to use insulin at age 75 years and that subsequent discontinuation of insulin use over a 4-year follow-up period was more common in healthier patients even after accounting for level of glycemic control.

Meaning  Persistent insulin use among older adults with poor health is associated with increased risk for hypoglycemia and limited future health benefit; these results suggest a need to better align current practice with guidelines that support reducing treatment intensity as health status declines.


Importance  Among older individuals with type 2 diabetes, those with poor health have greater risk and derive less benefit from tight glycemic control with insulin.

Objective  To examine whether insulin treatment is used less frequently and discontinued more often among older individuals with poor health compared with those in good health.

Design, Setting, and Participants  This longitudinal cohort study included 21 531 individuals with type 2 diabetes followed for up to 4 years starting at age 75 years. Electronic health record data from the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Diabetes Registry was collected to characterize insulin treatment and glycemic control over time. Data were collected from January 1, 2009, through December 31, 2017, and analyzed from February 2, 2018, through June 30, 2019.

Exposures  Health status was defined as good (<2 comorbid conditions or 2 comorbidities but physically active), intermediate (>2 comorbidities or 2 comorbidities and no self-reported weekly exercise), or poor (having end-stage pulmonary, cardiac, or renal disease; diagnosis of dementia; or metastatic cancer).

Main Outcomes and Measures  Insulin use prevalence at age 75 years and discontinuation among insulin users over the next 4 years (or 6 months prior to death if <4 years).

Results  Of 21 531 patients, 10 396 (48.3%) were women, and the mean (SD) age was 75 (0) years. Nearly one-fifth of 75-year-olds (4076 [18.9%]) used insulin. Prevalence and adjusted risk ratios (aRRs) of insulin use at age 75 years were higher in individuals with poor health (29.4%; aRR, 2.03; 95% CI, 1.87-2.20; P < .01) and intermediate health (27.5%; aRR, 1.85; 95% CI, 1.74-1.97; P < .01) relative to good health (10.5% [reference]). One-third (1335 of 4076 [32.7%]) of insulin users at age 75 years discontinued insulin within 4 years of cohort entry (and at least 6 months prior to death). Likelihood of continued insulin use was higher among individuals in poor health (aRR, 1.47; 95% CI, 1.27-1.67; P < .01) and intermediate health (aRR, 1.16; 95% CI, 1.05-1.30; P < .01) compared with good health (reference). These same prevalence and discontinuation patterns were present in the subset with tight glycemic control (hemoglobin A1c <7.0%).

Conclusions and Relevance  In older individuals with type 2 diabetes, insulin use was most prevalent among those in poor health, whereas subsequent insulin discontinuation after age 75 years was most likely in healthier patients. Changes are needed in current practice to better align with guidelines that recommend reducing treatment intensity as health status declines.

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