Kim Elliott, RN, Expert on Healthy Aging

Contact Kim
28 March 2017

manage diabetes in seniors

It’s National American Diabetes Association Alert Day! This day is especially important for seniors since they are at risk of developing health related complications from Type 2 diabetes if not diagnosed and managed. In fact, one out of four seniors age 65 and older suffers from diabetes, a dramatic increase compared with one in every ten over the age of 20, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Kidney Diseases. Aging itself is a risk factor associated with diabetes.

Click here to tweet and encourage a senior to take a diabetes risk test today! Taking a diabetes risk test can help identify potential symptoms that could lead to a diagnosis and a treatment plan to help manage the disease which can help a senior to live a long, happy and active life.

Type 2 diabetes in seniors is characterized by hyperglycemia (excess blood sugar) and insulin resistance. Serious complications such as hearing loss, vision problems, cognitive impairment, and mobility difficulties are especially apparent in seniors whose diabetes isn’t properly managed, but even people who control their blood sugar well are at risk of complications.

Type 2 diabetes in seniors is frequently asymptomatic for many years, before signs of the disease emerge. These include:

  • Increased thirst and frequent urination: Excess glucose in your bloodstream sucks water from tissues, forcing you to want to take in more liquid.
  • Fatigue: Feeling lethargic, tired or chronically weak can be a sign of Type 2 diabetes. When your body can't process sugar properly, you'll have chronically low energy.
  • Weight loss or weight gain: Your body is trying to make up for lost fluid and fuel, you may eat more and gain weight. The opposite can also happen. Even though you eat more than usual, you lose weight because your muscles don't get enough glucose.
  • Blurred vision: Excess levels of sugar pull fluid from the lenses of your eyes, affecting your ability to focus. If your vision ever changes noticeably over a brief period of time, see a physician immediately.
  • Sores that heal slowly or frequent infections: Urinary tract infections are especially a problem for older people.
  • Numbness and tingling in extremities: Decreased circulation can cause neuropathy (nerve damage). You may experience a lack of feeling in, or conversely, burning pain in your legs, feet, arms and/or hands.
  • Gum disease: Watch for increased senior dental problems and infections in your mouth. Type 2 diabetes can cause gums to be red and inflamed, putting your teeth at serious risk.

If you feel your senior loved one is at risk for developing Type 2 diabetes, or they've been newly diagnosed, here are five ways to help manage diabetes in seniors:

  • Lose weight and eat healthy: This may sound simplistic, but the one major cause of Type 2 diabetes in seniors is eating too much. The best way to prevent diabetes is to eat less and exercise more. A nutritionist may counsel you in making dietary changes. Generally speaking, people with diabetes are advised to increase their intake of vegetables and whole grains and to decrease animal fats and sugars.
  • Eliminate stress: Schedule entire days where you do only things that you enjoy. Relaxing practices such as meditation, tai chi, or yoga can be very effective in reducing daily stresses, as can having regular massages.
  • Exercise: Aerobic exercise can help keep your blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol levels on target. Aim for 30 minutes of aerobic activity a day, at least five days a week. You can go for a brisk walk, go dancing, swim, do water aerobics or ride a bicycle.
  • Stop smoking: Smoking hurts your lungs and heart. It also lowers the amount of oxygen that gets to your organs, increases your bad cholesterol level and raises your blood pressure. All of these can increase your risk of developing diabetes.
  • Manage your blood glucose level: Understand what makes your blood glucose level rise like excess carbohydrates, inactivity or infections. Also understand what makes it fall: missing a meal or snack, drinking alcohol and extra activity. You can’t tell what your blood glucose level is by how you feel, so it’s important to monitor it by testing. Bottom of Form

While you want to show you care, try not to put too much pressure on your senior loved one as it can cause them to worry about their health. Being supportive yet balanced goes a long way in maintaining physical, mental and relationship health for years to come.

Keep in mind that a diabetes diagnoses may not be as bad as it seems. Learning to live with the disease, and accepting lifestyle changes, will help you or your loved one live a long healthy life. You may even feel better once your diet is under control!


Like what you read?

Click here to sign up for news alerts.

Share on Social Media