Senior Safety & Health

Ways To Manage Diabetes In Seniors

The Importance Of Managing Diabetes In Seniors

Over 30 million people in the U.S. have a form of diabetes, with about 12 million cases of diabetes in seniors. It is one of the most rapidly growing health problems in the country’s history, and the number of those who have it continues to climb.

But this disease isn’t just an American health concern. Globally, it is expected to be the number one cause of death by 2030, according to the World Health Organization

The cost of treatment and medication for Americans is staggering. In 2012, the average for nationwide medical expenses totaled upwards of $176 billion.

Experts speculate that by 2050, one in three Americans will develop diabetes, up from one in 10 in 2015. 

Several contributing factors could explain this estimate. 

First, the U.S. population is steadily becoming older, and the likelihood of an older adult developing diabetes increases as they age. 

Ann Albright, director of the CDC’s Division of Diabetes Translation, emphasized that more programs promoting healthy lifestyle choices are needed to eliminate this issue. These should include education about a healthy diet and physical activity. 

Becoming more informed about diabetes in seniors, practicing precautionary measures, and learning how to treat it is the first step to fight this disease.

What Is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a disorder that impairs the body’s metabolism and its ability to digest and process food that turns into energy.

People with this disease have problems processing the sugar they get from food, which causes blood sugar levels (glucose) to rise.

If left untreated, high blood sugar can have drastic results on the body, from energy levels to diet. 

Diabetes causes the body not to produce enough insulin, or it doesn’t use it for its intended purpose. It is a critical component in maintaining healthy blood sugar levels. 

Insulin forms in the pancreas, then delivered into the bloodstream to absorb the sugar in the blood and turn it into energy. This process is what keeps glucose levels balanced.

Diabetes In Seniors - Insulin Graphic

Source: alamy.com

However, when the body fails to use insulin, it is called insulin resistance, which is generally the predecessor for type 2 diabetes. 

On the other hand, type 1 diabetes occurs when the body can’t produce insulin by itself. 

Differentiation of symptoms means that there are different diagnoses. Not only can diabetes be diagnosed at varying points in life, but there is also a spectrum of impacts it can have on the body. 

Some diagnoses feature various groups of symptoms. Additionally, treatment can vary from one diagnosis to another.

Why Diabetes In Seniors Is More Common

Age is one of the leading risk factors for diabetes, which is why 25% of adults over 65 develop it.

As the body ages, its ability to manage insulin properly changes. That is why type 1 diabetes is diagnosed commonly in children and young adults. On the other hand, type 2 is more likely to develop in those who are middle-aged or older.

 

Also, diabetes in seniors is more likely to develop because of diet and lifestyle. Older adults have consumed more sugar than those younger than them. 

Because of this higher sugar exposure, elders are more at risk for hyperglycemia, which is a condition that raises blood sugar to exceptionally high levels. Hyperglycemia can lead to type 2 diabetes. 

Race and ethnicity also are contributing factors. According to the American Diabetes Association, Native Americans are the most susceptible to developing diabetes, followed by African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans, and whites. 

Why some races are more at risk for developing this disease is still being studied. But scientists believe that a predisposition to insulin resistance, lower socio-economic status, and high levels of obesity all contribute to this trend.

Prediabetes

Prediabetes happens when glucose levels are elevated but aren’t regularly high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes.

It means that the body is at the beginning stages of insulin rejection so it can begin changing sugar into energy, or it will soon.

Prediabetes can is reversible; however, immediate lifestyle changes are necessary.

However, for the most part, people show no signs of being prediabetic. If symptoms of diabetes are already occurring, it may be too late.

50% of adults older than 65 are prediabetic. Another way of looking at it is 25 million people who are in jeopardy for developing type 2 diabetes.

Because diabetes in seniors accounts for 25% of the population, that is extremely alarming.

Seniors should work closely with their health care providers to manage their blood sugar. If you become prediabetic, it is your responsibility to make lifestyle choices that will improve your health.

Causes of Prediabetes

Like type 2 diabetes, prediabetes occurs over a person’s life and is the result of both lifestyle and family history. 

The causes of both conditions are closely related and include:

  • Sedentary lifestyle. Sugar is energy. And, with insulin, it powers us through the day. Physical activity counteracts insulin resistance by burning more glucose and using less insulin. Inactivity prevents the muscles from expending glucose. Instead of getting rid of the sugar, the body stores it, which raises blood sugar levels.
  • Family history. Some people are genetically inclined to developing diabetes. 
  • Sleep hygiene. Sleep deprivation and other disorders that impair your sleep quality can increase blood sugar levels and obesity. Read our article about the importance of sleep for seniors to learn more about what you can do to improve your sleep hygiene.
  • Excess fat. Besides being related to sedentary lifestyles and poor nutrition choices, extra fat has adverse effects on your health. In particular, fat located around the waist can be detrimental to the body and the organs by causing inflammation. This inflammation has been shown to contribute to worsening insulin resistance, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
  • Metabolic syndrome. This can involve antecedent causes of diabetes, like excess fat or high blood pressure. However, it also entails high blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as increased triglyceride levels. These all contribute to an increased chance of prediabetes or type 2 diabetes.

Prediabetes Prevention

Even if you become prediabetic, that doesn’t automatically mean you will also develop diabetes. However, it is a reliable indicator that you need to make some necessary changes to continue to live well.

There are some preventative measures you can take to manage your blood sugar and bring them down to normal, safe levels.

  • Eat more nutritious foods. Swap out sparkling water for soda, and carrots for chips. Small changes can make a big difference when you are trying to reverse prediabetes. If possible, discuss a plan with your doctor or a dietician geared towards your individual needs.
  • Get more active. You don’t need to have an intense daily workout to become healthier. Try taking long walks throughout the week, do water aerobics, or try any of these indoor exercises for seniors now that the weather is cooling. Physical activity is ideal for seniors to improve their mobility, energy, and maintain their independence.
  • Lose weight. Eating right and moving around will go a long way towards losing weight. Losing 5-10% of your current weight has been shown to lower the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes makes up 90-95% of all diabetes diagnoses and is the primary form of diabetes in seniors.

While it is the most common type, if caught early on, it is also the most avoidable and treatable. 

This condition happens when the body stops using insulin correctly. The pancreas produces excess insulin to process glucose because high blood sugar levels are high. 

However, the pancreas is unable to keep up production, and the insulin won’t be able to absorb all of the glucose. As a result, blood sugar levels to rise, and critical detriments to one’s health occur.

Symptoms

The symptoms of type 2 diabetes happen gradually, as unhealthy blood sugar levels develop throughout one’s life. Type 1, on the other hand, has signs that develop rapidly.

Regardless, both conditions have similar symptoms because they both involve an inability for the body to process sugar properly. These include:

  • Frequent urination
  • Severe hunger or thirst
  • Exhaustion
  • Blurry vision

Risk Factors

Prediabetes turns into type 2 diabetes if left untreated. So that means that both types share the same risk factors–age weight, activity levels, and family history.

Diabetes In Seniors - Diabetes Risk Factors Infographic

Source: gov.sg

Effects of Diabetes in Seniors

Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes share similar negative lifelong health consequences

The difference, though, is that the health problems with type 2 are more severe. Those who have this condition have higher mortality rates, as well. 

There are some reasons why, such as older patients who don’t follow treatment plans (such as neglecting to eat better and exercise), or those who never receive a diagnosis.

Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure, amputation of the lower limbs, and adult-onset blindness.

Additionally:

  • More than half of those with type 2 diabetes die from cardiovascular disease.
  • Over 70% of adult diabetes patients receive treatment for hypertension, which can cause further heart complications.
  • Type 2 diabetes patients are two times more likely to have a stroke or heart attack.

Testing

Anyone concerned about their health and or worried about diabetes in seniors should discuss it with their doctor.

Generally, practitioners are careful about monitoring blood sugar levels during appointments and will recommend testing if something is out of the ordinary.

Doctors will either run the same test several times or use various tests to get an accurate diagnosis. These include:

A1C Test

This test examines your median blood sugar levels in the last three months and lets your doctor know if they are reflective of a pattern or out of the ordinary.

A1C tests are typically used to determine if a patient is pre-diabetic or has type 2 diabetes. It doesn’t require fasting beforehand and is performed with a simple blood draw. 

Afterward, the test reports blood sugar levels in a percentage. The higher the percentage, the higher your glucose levels. A regular rate is under 5.7%, prediabetic is 5.7-6.5%, and diabetic is anything over 6.5%.

It should be conducted throughout the year to monitor blood sugar closely.

Fasting Plasma Glucose Test

The FPG test checks blood sugar at the time of the test. They are scheduled ahead of time, and to get the most accurate results, you should fast for a minimum of 8 hours before taking this test.

Random Plasma Glucose Test

This test is like the FPG in that is checks blood sugar levels in their current state at the time of testing. However, fasting isn’t necessary for this test.

Diabetes In Seniors - A Nurse Checking An Elderly Woman's Blood Sugar

Source: salkinc.com

Treatment

Sadly, there is no cure for diabetes. Treatment options vary depending on the type, the individual’s specific needs, blood sugar, and health effects that are arising from the symptoms.

The main focus of treating type 2 diabetes in seniors is adjusting lifestyle routines and eating habits. These two things are the main ways to manage healthy blood sugar levels.

 

Besides those, there are medical routes that can assist with regulation, such as:

  • Metformin. This medication is the most commonly prescribed treatment for high glucose levels, provided the disease hasn’t progressed far enough to cause critical health problems. However, it is most effective in combination with exercise plans and eating right.
  • Other medications. Medicine that benefits kidney and heart health can help make other lifestyle changes such as physical activity more comfortable and act as a motivator for weight loss.
  • Insulin therapy. This treatment is done through injections or pumps. Your health care provider will help figure out the type of insulin you need, and how long you need it.

The next thing to do once blood sugar levels drop to normal is continuing the plan that helped meet that goal. Not only will following these new routines prevent complications, but they may also even reduce the damage incurred from earlier in life.

Other Health Strategies

Some different ways to manage diabetes in seniors include:

  • Regularly checking blood pressure
  • Watching cholesterol and taking a yearly cholesterol and triglyceride levels test.
    Diabetes In Seniors - An Older Couple Walking

    Source: nia.nih.gov

  • Quit smoking
  • Get a yearly eye exam
  • Take a kidney test once a year
  • Get the flu and pneumonia vaccine every year.
  • Take care of your teeth and gums. Besides brushing and flossing every day, visit a dentist every six months.
  • Take care of your skin by using softeners for dryness, and treat cuts and bruises to prevent them from becoming infected.
  • Check your feet every day for red patches, sores, blisters, skin breaks, infections, or excessive calluses. Ask someone to help if you can’t, and see a podiatrist if anything seems out of the ordinary.
  • Talk to your doctor about regular cancer screenings based on your risk factors
  • Discuss any worries about your health you may have, including depression and memory issues.

Conclusion

Diabetes in seniors is a big concern not just in the U.S., but around the globe. As we get older, our bodies process sugar in the blood less effectively, which can cause problems with insulin resistance.

If left untreated, diabetes can have devastating, long-lasting health consequences, or even result in death.

The most effective preventative measure to stop the development of prediabetes or full-blown diabetes is eating right and exercising regularly.

If you have concerns, talk to your doctor to develop a plan with the necessary changes to protect your health and well-being.

How MeetCaregivers Can Help

A qualified in-home care worker from MeetCaregivers can help you or a loved one with the necessary lifestyle changes to improve their health.

Our caregivers can help with meal planning and preparation, transportation to appointments, or even give that extra boost to motivate and get active.

Call us at (888) 541-1136 or for general inquiries, message us at info@meetcaregivers.com.

Lastly, be sure to check out the Blog for more resources about caregiving and senior living.