Diabetes and Senior Health: Know the Facts

Nov 17, 2020
an editorial photo with health food in a bowl and a medical records

Aging brings about many physical and mental changes and one of those could be the onset of Type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the disease. According to the National Diabetes Statistics Report 2020, published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “The percentage of adults with diabetes increased with age, reaching 26.8% among those aged 65 years or older.” Of those, 5.4% are undiagnosed, leaving vulnerable seniors at risk for a variety of other health problems. Take a look at what diabetes is, risk factors, preventative measures, and what treatments are available.

Diabetes: Causes and Effects

Diabetes occurs when blood sugar (or glucose) becomes too high. The basic cause is not enough insulin production in the pancreas, which results in an inability to use glucose for energy in the cells. When we eat, the glucose in food is released into the blood, and normally, the pancreas releases insulin to put it to work and keep blood glucose levels in line. But when not enough insulin is released, the glucose builds up in the blood. Over time, this high blood glucose can cause other health problems including heart disease and strokediabetic neuropathykidney diseaseeye diseasefoot problems, and more.

But Type 2 diabetes often throws up plenty of warning flags. These symptoms generally develop slowly over time (unlike Type 1 symptoms which can develop very quickly) and include:

  • Increased thirst and urination.
  • Increased hunger.
  • Fatigue
  • Blurred vision.
  • Numbness or tingling in the feet or hands.
  • Sores that do not heal.
  • Unexplained weight loss.

However, it is also possible to exhibit no symptoms at all and still have Type 2 diabetes, so being tested periodically is key to catching it early. Physicians will often request an A1C test to determine blood glucose levels. When slightly elevated, this is often referred to as “prediabetes,” an early stage of the disease where blood glucose is higher than it should be, but not high enough to be considered diabetes. Learn more about the mechanics of Type 2 diabetes in the NIDDK article, “Insulin Resistance & Prediabetes.”

Know your risk factors

Although some people are born with diabetes, or develop it in childhood or later, people age 45 or older are most likely to develop Type 2 diabetes and should be tested by their physician, especially if they have one or more of the risk factors for the disease.

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, explains the range of risk factors associated with Type 2 diabetes.

  • Being overweight or obese.
  • Being age 45 or older.
  • Having a family history of diabetes.
  • Being African American, Alaska Native, American Indian, Asian American, Hispanic/Latino, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander.
  • Having high blood pressure.
  • Having a low level of HDL (“good”) cholesterol, or a high level of triglycerides.
  • Having a history of gestational diabetes or having given birth to a baby weighing 9 pounds or more.
  • Not being physically active.
  • Having a history of heart disease or stroke.
  • Having depression.
  • Having polycystic ovary syndrome, also called PCOS.
  • Having acanthosis nigricans — dark, thick and velvety skin around your neck or armpits.

One good way to measure personal risk for diabetes, is using the NIDDK’s body mass index charts that compare height, weight and ethnicity to assess risk. Another great tool is the American Diabetes Association’s Type 2 Diabetes Risk Test. This one minute test can be taken online or a pdf of the test can be downloaded for use.

Preventing Diabetes for Senior Health

Once you have diabetes, there is no known cure, so it’s best to take evasive action to prevent it from occurring. Based on the above list of risk factors, it’s easy to see opportunities for prevention measures. Luckily, many of these are linked to each other, helping achieve the goal with just a little dedication. For example, getting more regular exercise can help lose extra weight, lower blood pressure and decrease risk for cardiovascular problems like heart disease and strokes. The AARP article, “Exercise Tips to Prevent and Treat Diabetes,” is a great place to learn more.

Another preventative measure is an improved diet that includes whole grains and lots of fiber, particularly that found in fruits, vegetables, beans, and nuts. Also, eating more fish, eggs, Greek yogurt, extra-virgin olive oil, and garlic can help combat the symptoms of prediabetes and can also help those with diabetes better manage the disease. Find out how certain foods can help prevent and mange diabetes in the Healthline article, “The 16 Best Foods to Control Diabetes.”

Treatment for Diabetes

Once diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes the main concern is management. Diabetics may need to test blood glucose levels daily and record them according to their doctor’s orders. For those that adopt life-style changes like getting more exercise and eating the right foods, keeping track may be treatment enough. Others, however, may need medications to lower blood glucose levels or to stimulate insulin production. Some diabetics are prescribed insulin therapy, which requires regular injections as determined by a physician. Another option for people with a body mass index above 35 is bariatric surgery to lose weight. This also requires strict adherence to exercise routines and dietary changes. The Mayo Clinic article, “Type 2 Diabetes Diagnosis and Treatment” provides a detailed look at what to expect.

Leading a healthy lifestyle can go a long way toward preventing Type 2 diabetes. At Countryside we offer seniors many ways to do just that and we are always ready to help our residents meet their goals. For more information about Countryside, please call Margaret Nagel at (517) 206-5000 or download our brochure to learn about our care levels, cost, and amenities.

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