How Does Diabetes Affect the Elderly?

According to estimates by the World Health Organization, diabetes was the seventh leading cause of death worldwide in 2016. In the developed world, a quarter of those 65 and older may have diabetes.  In the US alone, the Centers for Disease Control says about 12 million seniors have the condition. Some experts believe the number of Americans who have diabetes could increase to one in three by 2050, if current trends continue. This is due in part to an increasingly older population—one that is more at risk for developing diabetes as they age.

“These are alarming numbers that show how critical it is to change the course of type 2 diabetes,” said Ann Albright, the director of CDC’s Division of Diabetes Translation.

She stressed that we must develop “successful programs to improve lifestyle choices on healthy eating and physical activity must be made more widely available,because the stakes are too high and the personal toll too devastating to fail.”

And now there’s one more thing for the elderly to consider: older people who experience daytime sleepiness may be at risk of developing new medical conditions, including diabetes, according to a new study to be presented the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting this April. The condition, called hypersomnolence, is defined as excessive daytime sleepiness even after having seven or more hours of sleep. It can be debilitating for some people, affecting the way that they perform at work and in other daily activities.

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The first step in combating diabetes is awareness and being informed, including how to take preventative measures. A good elderly diabetes management plan will cover how to:

Track glucose levels. Very high glucose levels (called hyperglycemia) or very low glucose levels (called hypoglycemia) can be risky to your health. Your plan will show how often you should check your glucose and how often to get the A1C test.

Make healthy food choices. The food you eat affects glucose levels, so it’s important to learn what’s best for you to eat, how much, and when.

According to the United States National Institutes of Health, there are many other ways to stay healthy with diabetes:

  • Be active. Regular exercise can increase glucose levels and also help with weight management. Walking and other forms of daily exercise can help improve glucose levels in older people with diabetes. (“Nurse Next Door” recommends at least 30 minutes of physical activity five days a week.). Some exercise tends to raise BG levels (usually anaerobic exercise) but overall, being active makes BG easier to manage and generally lower
  • Manage your blood pressure. Get your blood pressure checked often.
  • Manage your cholesterol. At least once a year, get a blood test to check your cholesterol and triglyceride levels. High levels may increase your risk for heart problems.
  • Stop smoking. Smoking raises your risk for many health problems, including heart attack and stroke.
  • Have yearly eye exams. Finding and treating eye problems early may keep your eyes healthy.
  • Check your kidneys yearly. Diabetes can affect your kidneys. Urine and blood tests will show if your kidneys are okay.
  • Get flu shots every year and the pneumonia vaccine. A yearly flu shot will help keep you healthy. If you’re over 65, make sure you have had the pneumonia vaccine..
  • Care for your teeth and gums. Brush your teeth and floss daily. Have your teeth and gums checked twice a year by a dentist to avoid serious problems.
  • Protect your skin. Keep your skin clean and use skin softeners for dryness. Take care of minor cuts and bruises to prevent infections.
  • Look at your feet. Take time to look at your feet every day for any red patches. If you have sores, blisters, breaks in the skin, infections, or build-up of calluses, see a podiatrist.
  • Keep up with cancer screenings. Ask your doctor which screenings to get based on your age, gender, and other risk factors.
  • Talk with your doctor about your concerns. If you think you might need help with your management plan, are depressed, are worried about your memory, or have any other concerns, talk with your doctor. There may be ways to help.

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