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Strategies to Spot and Support Diabetes in the Elderly

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that up to 33 percent of adults age 65 and older may have diabetes. This statistic is twice as frightening when you consider that many older adults do not even realize they have the disease. Why is this number so high? In general, the elderly population is at greater risk for developing diabetes because their bodies have been exposed to sugar longer than other generations of people. Additionally, seniors are at higher risk for diabetes-related complications, such as hypoglycemia, heart disease and kidney failure.

If you are caring for an aging loved one, or have concerns about someone you know who has or may have diabetes, it is important to understand what causes diabetes in the elderly, what complications to watch for, where to go for help and how to provide support.

What is Diabetes 

At a high level, diabetes is a metabolic disorder that disrupts how the body uses glucose (sugar) for energy, growth and repair. In a person who does not have diabetes, that process is regulated by insulin, which is produced by the pancreas. For a diabetic person, the pancreas produces either too much or too little insulin, resulting in glucose building up in the person’s blood. When a person of any age is diagnosed with prediabetes, it means that person’s blood sugar is high, but not high enough on a regular basis to be considered diabetic. Even though the American Diabetes Association (ADA) reports that more than half of Americans 65 and older have prediabetes, it is difficult for many people to recognize diabetes in the elderly because they have no symptoms. Once diabetes is diagnosed, there are two chronic types of the disease:

Type 1 Diabetes

This type is rarely found in older adults and is most common in children and young adults. This form of diabetes is rare and only occurs when the body’s own immune system targets insulin-producing cells. A person with type one diabetes must take insulin daily in order to survive.

Type 2 Diabetes

This diagnosis means the pancreas produces enough glucose, but for some reason, the body is not using the glucose efficiently.

So, what is the most common cause of an increased blood sugar in the elderly? Studies show that increased levels of inactivity, as well as the effects of increasing insulin resistance and impaired pancreatic islet function due to aging are the main causes of diabetes in the elderly.

Recognizing Diabetes

In order to care for an elderly loved one, it is key to know how diabetes affects the elderly. Understanding these signs and symptoms can make a qualitative difference in your life and the lives of those you care about:

  • Feelings of fatigue
  • Increased thirst or hunger
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Frequent urination
  • Blurred vision
  • Wounds healing more slowly
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet

Many of the symptoms of diabetes in the elderly are dismissed by seniors and family members as merely signs of age. Because they could be indicators of a larger health concern, it is important to speak to a trusted healthcare professional if you are experiencing any of these symptoms.

Caring for a Senior with Diabetes

For caregivers, successfully managing diabetes in the elderly means taking part in helping with lifestyle choices, food decisions and managing medical appointments. From understanding what is the normal blood sugar for seniors to recognizing early symptoms of the disease, this knowledge can make a real difference for you and your loved one. Here are a few tips to help a senior with type two diabetes manage their disease:

Choose a healthy diet. Foods low in sugar and high in protein and fiber are great choices for managing diabetes. The ADA recommends the book “Create Your Plate” as a resource for seniors with type two diabetes.

Be mindful of medications and appointments. Set your loved one up for success by creating a schedule for medication and monitoring that fits easily into their life. Doctor’s appointments and regular testing will also be important.

Stay active. Encourage your loved one to exercise three to five times a week; this will help stabilize glucose levels and could lead to weight loss.

Finding Support

Treatment of diabetes in the elderly should be based on an assessment of the overall health of the individual. For example, medication regimens should be simplified to improve compliance and prevent complications. For this reason, it is important to select the right care team and assisted living facility for your loved one. At rehabilitation centers, like Northland, the residents are supported by qualified professionals and are treated based on their medical history and preferences.

Contact us today to find out if Northland Rehabilitation is right for you or your loved one.