Diabetes and Older Adults
One in four people in the United States age 60 or older currently has diabetes, a number that represents more than 25% of the total population of that age group. This is due in part to the fact that as people get older, the risk for type 2 diabetes increases. Along with advanced age, other factors contributing to developing diabetes includes lifestyle choices, family history, and ethnicity.
Unlike type 1 diabetes, where the body’s immune system destroys the cells that release the insulin it needs to turn glucose from food into energy, type 2 diabetes means the body isn’t making or using insulin properly. When there are high levels of glucose in the blood, problems like eye, foot, nerve and kidney disorders can arise. Type 2 is the most common form of diabetes, affecting over 29 million people in the U.S.
Proper Diabetes Management for Seniors
While there is no cure for diabetes, there are steps seniors can take to make sure they are managing their condition properly to help prevent or delay any complications. First, for those over the age of 45, it’s recommended to schedule an initial blood sugar screening to see if blood sugar is within a normal range, especially if noticing any of the common symptoms of type 2 diabetes.
Common type 2 diabetes symptoms include:
- Sudden weight gain
- Extreme hunger or thirst
- Feelings of listlessness or exhaustion
- Frequent urination
- Numbness or pain in legs and feet
- Blurry vision
- Gum or oral infections
- Slower healing process from minor cuts or bruises
- Dry or itchy skin
If a type 2 diabetes diagnosis is given, medication will be prescribed to help properly manage the condition. Plus, making healthy lifestyle choices can also aid in proper diabetes management.
A few ways to ensure seniors are correctly managing diabetes include:
Monitoring blood sugar. Track blood sugar levels throughout the day to watch when they might be higher than normal, as high levels of glucose can be dangerous to overall health. Also, schedule A1C screenings at least twice a year, as well as monitor lipid levels and blood pressure.
Losing weight. Even just losing 10-15 pounds can make a difference in those with diabetes. However, seniors should stay away from fad diets or extreme weight loss diets and lose weight the healthy way—gradually.
Making healthy food choices. While older adults with diabetes aren’t restricted to any certain diet, it’s still important to make smart choices when it comes to food. Read labels, weigh foods, and eat a good balance of non-starchy vegetables, protein, and whole grains.
Getting enough physical activity. Staying active helps lower blood pressure and cholesterol, increases strength and mobility, keeps joints fluid and flexible, and also lowers the risk for heart disease and stroke. Seniors are advised to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day, five days a week.
Reducing stress levels. High stress levels can not only have adverse effects on blood sugar levels, but it can also lead to poor eating habits. Try deep breathing or meditation exercises to decompress during stressful situations.
Schedule annual health exams. Visiting not only a primary care physician yearly, but also maintain regular eye exams, getting kidneys and cholesterol levels checked, and going to the dentist can all help seniors avoid any complications from diabetes.