The side effects from diabetes can be uncomfortable and limiting, but for older adults these side effects can also be life-threatening.
Many seniors suffer from type 2 diabetes (which affects about 95% of those with diabetes) and battle daily to keep it under control. In the senior community, diabetes 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.
- It is estimated that about 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.
- Seniors with diabetes are twice as likely to be hospitalized for kidney infections.
- As many as 70 percent of those with the condition have severe forms of diabetic nerve damage which can lead to amputations of the lower extremities.
Diabetes Signs and Symptoms
Diabetes is characterized by hyperglycemia (excess 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 using water from tissues thus forcing the body to want more fluid and, as a result, excrete more fluid.
Diabetes education becomes important 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 obvious 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 or 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 teeth at serious risk
What Can Be Done?
Seniors diagnosed with diabetes 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.
One can start by cutting out dessert and avoiding second portions. Increase the consumption of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains that are high in complex carbohydrates, and decrease the amount of red meat and sugars. Avoid alcoholic beverages. Start exercising.
Medication may be necessary. It is important to consult a physician about this, since there can be serious side effects and contraindications. In addition, seniors with diabetes need to:
- Have regular blood tests to make sure the disease is under control
- Have their eyes checked regularly to keep track of diabetic retinopathy that causes deterioration in the blood vessels of the retina
- Monitor their weight and blood pressure and making changes if necessary
- Check the health 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)
- Conduct regular urine tests to look for any kidney problems
- Get vaccinated against influenza and pneumonia as a precaution against additional infection
- Manage their level of stress
Seniors with diabetes have a tough road ahead. But a diabetic can manage effectively by becoming educated on what they can and can’t do, and by making a life-long commitment to changing their lifestyle.
Angels Senior Home Solutions is a based-in-faith company that provides in-home healthcare and personal care services for seniors. We are pleased to provide caregivers that help to restore independence, health and confidence to the elderly.