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What You Need to Know About Preventing and Treating Diabetes in the Elderly

Crystal Jo
By Crystal JoMarch 18, 2019

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that over 30.3 million adults have diabetes in the United States. There are three times as many adults with diabetes now as there were 20 years ago and the majority of people with diabetes are over the age of 45.

As we age, our risk for diabetes also increases. The best strategy for preventing and treating diabetes is to catch the disease early. Lifestyle changes are often enough to prevent the life-threatening results of diabetes. Read more about the disease and see what you need to know about treating diabetes in the elderly.

Diabetes in the Elderly

There’s a saying that goes, “What you don’t know, won’t hurt you.” This is not true for diabetes.

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Diabetes is a disease where blood sugar levels are too high. When the body is functioning properly, the food that you eat is turned into glucose (or sugar). Your body produces enough insulin to bring glucose into your cells. Your cells then use glucose for energy. Your food then provides your body with energy.

In diabetes, however, the body either does not make enough insulin or cells no longer respond to insulin.

Instead of the cells using glucose for energy, the glucose continues to circle in the bloodstream. Your blood sugars become high but you don’t get the energy you need from your food.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body is making insulin but your cells are not using the insulin anymore. This type of diabetes is the most common type affecting the elderly.

Diabetes: Signs and Symptoms

According to the National Institute on Aging, the most common symptoms of diabetes are:

  • Blurred vision
  • Bruises and cuts that heal slowly
  • Constant thirst
  • Excessive hunger
  • Feeling tired
  • Having to urinate often
  • Skin infections
  • Unplanned weight loss

There are also some less obvious diabetes symptoms that you can look for in a parent or senior loved one, which include:

  • A refusal to eat
  • Changes in behavior
  • Confusion
  • Falls
  • Little interest in food
  • Loss of short-term memory
  • Not noticing when they injure themselves (having bruises or cuts on hands and feet or finger and toenails that don’t heal)
  • Sudden incontinence

Since diabetes is very common in the elderly, it is recommended that everybody over the age of 45 years should be regularly tested for diabetes.

How Diabetes Can Affect the Elderly

Diabetes is not a disease to be brushed off or ignored, particularly in the elderly. The body relies on the proper functioning of insulin to create energy. High blood sugar levels can cause damage to almost every organ in the body.

The build-up of sugar in the bloodstream could be compared to letting a set of dentures soak in a can of soda pop. All that sugar will destroy the teeth. The body’s organs will suffer if the blood surrounding them is constantly high in sugar.

Unchecked high blood glucose levels can:

  • Cause infection and injuries
  • Damage kidneys
  • Increase the risk for Alzheimer’s disease
  • Increase the risk for a heart attack
  • Increase the risk for stroke
  • Lead to limb amputation
  • Lead to vision loss
  • Weaken arteries

All of these risk factors drastically affect the quality of life that a parent or senior loved one can enjoy. But there is no reason to accept this as the result of aging. There are ways to prevent and treat diabetes.

Preventing and Treating Diabetes in the Elderly

Diabetes is a result of a buildup of blood glucose in the bloodstream. The best way to prevent this is to decrease the amount of sugar that sits in the body’s system.

How to Prevent Diabetes

Three key ways to manage blood sugar levels are:

1. Feed the body what it needs.

Cut back on foods with added sugar. Replace these with low-starch vegetables such as lettuce and spinach. Many people, although eating throughout the day, are at risk of being malnourished. Give the body plenty of fresh, unprocessed foods such as berries, greens, lean meats and vegetables.

2. Get moving.

No matter one’s age, physical activity is good for the body. Moderate exercise makes the body’s cells more receptive to the blood sugar in the bloodstream. This helps the cells to use the sugars for energy. Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise five times a week.

3. Relax and let it go.

Anxiety and stress can cause blood sugar levels to rise. When the body is stressed, it releases more cortisol which negatively affects blood sugars. Take stock of how to lower stress levels by getting good sleep and learning how to try to regulate emotions.

How to Treat Diabetes

The recommendations for preventing diabetes will also help treat diagnosed diabetes. A doctor can set up a treatment plan based on specific needs, routine and other health problems.

If a parent or senior loved one has diabetes, make sure to also:

1. Regularly check blood glucose levels.

2. Report any concerns or side effects to a doctor.

3. Take diabetes medications as prescribed by a doctor.

Diabetes is a dangerous and life-threatening disease, but it is also treatable.

You can help yourself and your senior loved ones enjoy their golden years by taking steps towards preventing and treating diabetes today.

What questions do you have about preventing and treating diabetes? We’d love to hear your stories and questions in the comments below.

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