Diabetes occurs when someone has high blood sugar due to lack of insulin, a hormone produced by the body to control glucose levels. Although diabetes is very common in the elderly, it can goes undiagnosed. Symptoms in older patients are instead often mistaken for normal aging if noticed at all. There are many forms of the disease, but the most common are Type 1 and Type 2.
Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body can no longer produce insulin. The Type 2 version occurs when the body becomes insulin resistant, meaning cells can no longer able to properly utilize the insulin the body creates. If
Did You Know? Over 50% of those who suffer from Type 2 diabetes are over 60 years old.
Symptoms to Look Out For
Once the disease is diagnosed, the goal of the doctors is to maintain a normal blood sugar level through diet, exercise and medications so as not to experience complications.
As noted, symptoms can be hard to identify as they are often associated with normal aging or other conditions. These symptoms include frequent urination, increased thirst or hunger, blurred vision, and changes in weight. Additional symptoms may be increased depression, impaired cognitive function, increased dizziness and falling, or numbness and tingling in hands and feet. The only way to determine for sure that an elderly person has diabetes is to have them take a doctor-ordered blood test. Periodic screening is recommended for the elderly to rule out diabetes, as if the disease goes on for too long unnoticed, coma or death can occur.
Other possible severe complications in the elderly may include:
- Heart disease or stroke
- Blindness or cataracts
- Kidney failure
- Nerve damage/reduced blood flow
- Skin infections or pressure sores
- Restless leg syndrome
Elderly diabetes also can cause vascular dementia in senior citizens. Vascular dementia is the result of one or more strokes, which are blood clots that block arteries supplying blood to the brain.
Minimizing the Risk of Diabetes
Prevention of Type 2 diabetes is possible no matter the age of the patient. Often, high blood sugar levels can be detected and dealt with before diabetes sets in. The best ways to prevent the onset of the disease include:
- Stop smoking
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Stay physically active
- Limit fat and sugar in your diet
- Eat regular meals that include healthy, non-processed foods
- Watch cholesterol and blood pressure levels
The best diet for the elderly to prevent the disease would incorporate eating primarily dark green vegetables and fruits, as well as high fiber foods such as brown rice, as well as beans, barley and lentils. Lean meats alternatives and lots of water are good options as well. Alcohol and soft drinks should be limited if taken at all.
If you are over 60 years old and are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above, you can ask for a screening from your physician. If blood sugar is elevated, there may still be time to prevent the disease progressing any further.
If your loved one lives in assisted living or memory care, ask their physician to check blood sugar levels. If they are suffering from Type 2 diabetes, schedule an appointment with the facilities director to discuss a change in diet, additional medications, or any lifestyle changes which are necessary. Because of the seriousness of the possible complications, it is important to ensure that everyone works together towards your loved one’s health.