This month is American Diabetes Month, a time when people across the nation come together to raise awareness and take action in the fight against diabetes. The CDC says that diabetes affects approximately 34.2 million people in the US alone, 10.5% of the population. That works out to just over 1 in 10 people having diabetes. The number of American seniors age 65 or older (diagnosed and undiagnosed) with diabetes is at 26.8%, or 14.3 million seniors.
Different Types of Diabetes
There are a few different kinds of diabetes, Type 1, Type 2, Gestational, and Prediabetes. Diabetes is a chronic illness that affects the way that your body converts food into energy. The majority of the food that you consume is turned into sugar, also called glucose, and released into your bloodstream. When glucose is released into your bloodstream, your blood sugar goes up, triggering your pancreas to release insulin, which in turn acts as a “key” to allow the insulin into your cells. This allows your body to use this blood sugar as energy. When you have diabetes, your body either does not create enough insulin, or it is unable to use the insulin that it creates. This causes a build-up of blood sugar in the bloodstream that can lead to serious health problems down the road. The different types of diabetes include:
Type 1 – The body does not make any insulin. Older adults can develop this form of diabetes, but it is most common in younger adults and children and, once developed, they have diabetes for life.
Type 2 – The body can not make or use its insulin supply properly. This form of diabetes is the most common form and is most prevalent in middle-aged to older adults. People are more likely to develop this type if they are overweight, inactive, have a family history of diabetes, or have previously had gestational diabetes.
Gestational – A form of diabetes that can develop during pregnancy. This form of diabetes causes high blood sugar during pregnancy and can potentially affect your pregnancy and your baby’s health. Your blood sugar typically goes back to normal after delivery, but having gestational diabetes does increase your chances of developing type 2 diabetes later on, so it is important to regularly test for changes in blood sugar.
Prediabetes – This is common in millions of older Americans. Prediabetes means that your blood sugar is high, but not yet high enough for you to be diagnosed as diabetic. Having prediabetes increases a person’s chance of having a stroke, heart attack, or developing type 2 diabetes.
Symptoms of Diabetes in Seniors
Prediabetes is the biggest symptom that you are at a high risk of developing type 2 diabetes and should speak with your doctor about taking steps to decrease your chances of developing diabetes. A few symptoms that you could have diabetes are losing weight, increased hunger and thirst, unusual fatigue, blurred vision, bruises and cuts that are healing slowly, or frequent urination. Yes, many of these symptoms are easy to see as just part of “getting old” but if you have developed any or multiple symptoms, it is smart to discuss them with your doctor. It is better to be overly cautious than to ignore the symptoms until it is too late.
Care Tips For Seniors With Diabetes
Whether a senior has lived with diabetes most of their life, or it is a new diagnosis, there are many responsibilities that come along with the diagnosis. This also means when they age and are unable to fully care for themselves, these are all things a caregiver has to be able to do for them. If you are a senior who is caring for themselves, or a caregiver taking care of an elderly patient with diabetes, here are some helpful things to keep in mind.
- As one ages and develops different ailments, naturally, there are more medications to take. With the addition of diabetes medications, it can seem a bit overwhelming. Developing a system can help one stay organized and ensure the proper medications are taken at the proper times. There are plenty of free online printable medication log templates, and phone apps to track what medicines are being taken, as well as notifications of dose times.
- Keep a blood sugar log. Tracking blood sugar through a paper log or app on the phone will keep seniors on top of their diabetes. Speaking to a doctor about getting a blood glucose meter to keep at home.
- Educate on proper nutrition for diabetics through a doctor and other reputable sources. After being properly informed on healthy eating habits, take time to read labels on food! The information might be surprising. No one person is alike so consult a professional before making extreme changes to dietary habits. In general, cutting high sugar and processed foods and replacing them with a healthy balance of complex carbs, healthy fats, and protein is a great starting point for getting a handle on nutrition. Eating regular meals is also important for seniors with diabetes; if they have trouble remembering when they need to have a meal or snack, try setting alarms or reminders for mealtimes, or having a caregiver gently remind them.
- Plan out an exercise routine. Exercise will have to be unique to each individual. Some seniors may be able to perform almost all forms of exercise, while others may be limited due to health concerns. Speaking with a doctor and physical therapist is always important when trying to determine an exercise program when there are concerns about physical limitations. Exercise lowers blood glucose levels and can help boost the body’s sensitivity to insulin, helping counter insulin resistance in diabetics.
- Make sure to keep up with regular doctor appointments and check-ups. Don’t skip out on eye appointments, dentist appointments, or other regular checkups. These appointments will be important in making sure diabetes isn’t having new effects that may go unnoticed.
- Every 3-6 months (or whatever is doctor recommended) get average blood sugar measured.
- Make sure to have proper skincare and report if there are any bruises or cuts that aren’t healing properly.
- Keep up with flu and pneumonia vaccines.
- Lastly, note that feet take extra special care. Check feet every single day. As a senior, if someone is unable to see the bottom and sides of their feet, get someone else to check, or purchase a mirror that allows the individual to inspect themselves. Foot care cannot be stressed enough to those with diabetes. Diabetes can cause nerve damage, circulatory issues, and infections in the feet that, if not caught soon enough, can lead to more serious problems such as amputation, if not dealt with quickly and properly.
Diabetes can be a daunting diagnosis, but by staying on top of your symptoms and taking proper care, it can be managed. For further education on diabetes and self-management refer to this Diabetes Self-Management Education and Support (DSMES) Technical Assistance Guide by the CDC and this Diabetes Self-Management Guide by the American Diabetes Association. To help against the fight to find a cure for diabetes go to American Diabetes Association to find resources and information on how you can help.
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