Diabetic Seniors Battle Daily To Keep Their Disease Under Control.
Diabetes is a serious disease for anyone, but especially seniors. It can lead to dangerous health problems, such as having a heart attack or stroke. The good news is that there are things that can be done to take control of diabetes, prevent its problems, and lower the risk of further complications for diabetic seniors.
In the elderly community, the number of diabetic seniors has become rampant. For example:
- The likelihood of acquiring diabetes increases with age. More than half of all diabetes occur in people older than 55 and nearly 20 percent of Americans 65 and older, or seven million people, have the disease.
- An estimated 65 percent of all people with diabetes will die of heart disease or stroke, and the odds are that those with diabetes will die at a younger age than those without the disease.
- It is the leading cause of blindness in adults.
- Diabetic seniors are twice as likely to be hospitalized for kidney infections.
- Up to 70 percent of those with the condition have severe forms of diabetic nerve damage, which can lead to amputations of the lower extremities.
What Is Diabetes?
Diabetes is characterized by hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) and insulin resistance (which prevents glucose from entering the cells and, instead, builds it up in the blood). A diabetic may not show any symptoms for many years. As a result, many overlook the most common initial symptoms – increased thirst and frequent urination. This a result of excess glucose in the bloodstream sucking water from tissues, thus forcing the body to take in more liquid and therefore, excrete more fluid.
Diabetes education becomes necessary because many of those at risk either misunderstand or ignore the disease and take action only when the situation worsens.
Early diagnosis is critical – particularly for those who are predisposed (either genetically or because of certain risk factors). Once the disease has progressed, it often results in more visible symptoms like:
- Feeling rundown and lethargic, like a car without any gas.
- Weight loss or weight gain as the diabetic may eat more to make up for lost fluids, or lose weight because the muscles don’t receive enough glucose.
- Blurred vision because excess levels of sugar pull fluid from the lenses of the eyes.
- Slow-healing sores or wounds.
- Frequent urinary tract infections.
- Numbness, tingling or a burning sensation in the arms and legs due to decreased circulation that can cause nerve damage.
- Gum disease that puts the diabetic’s oral health at serious risk.
What Can Be Done?
Diabetic seniors can fight back. Many live normal and healthy lives with diabetes – but it often means a lifestyle change. The single most effective treatment, as well as the best prevention, is gradual and permanent weight loss. This involves decreasing caloric intake and, at the same time, increasing one’s level of exertion. This means eating less and exercising more.
The way to start is with small changes, such as cutting out dessert and avoiding second portions. Then, increase the consumption of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains that are high in complex carbohydrates, and decrease the amount of red meat and sugars. Avoiding alcoholic beverages is vital. At the same time, begin exercising.
How to Best Manage Diabetes?
Medication may be necessary. It is important to consult a physician about this since there can be serious side effects and contraindications. Also, diabetic seniors need to:
- Monitor glucose levels at home to prevent very high or low readings (hypoglycemia).
- Have regular laboratory tests to make sure the disease is under control.
- Obtain a blood test called the A1C test. The result will show their average glucose level for the past 2 to 3 months.
- Have their eyes checked regularly to keep track of diabetic retinopathy that causes deterioration in the blood vessels of the retina.
- Monitor their blood pressure and weight and make changes if necessary.
- Visual inspection of their feet for any signs of foot ulcers or infections.
- Monitoring their levels of cholesterol and triglycerides (the types of fat found in the bloodstream).
- Undergo regular urine tests to check for any kidney problems.
- Get vaccinated against influenza and pneumonia as a precaution against additional infection.
- Stop smoking.
- Manage their level of stress.
Diabetic seniors have a tough road ahead. However, a diabetic can manage effectively by becoming educated on what they can and can not do and by making a life-long commitment to changing their lifestyle.
The American Diabetes Association has resources for diabetic seniors and their families. Visit Diabetes.org/Seniors to learn more.