What is Diabetes?
Diabetes in the elderly is a medical disease that is caused by too much Glucose, or sugar, in the blood. Typically, Glucose comes from the foods that you eat and is then transferred into energy. Insulin, one of the bodies’ hormones, then helps the glucose convert into energy in your cells. If the body does not produce enough insulin, then the Glucose will remain in the blood.
Over time, the excess of Glucose can cause health problems. It can lead to heart disease, stroke, kidney and liver problems, eye problems, nerve damage, foot damage, and dental disease.
The occurrence of Diabetes is common. The American Diabetes Association reports that 41% of the people dealing with Diabetes symptoms are 65 years of age or older. It is also possible for seniors to be dealing with the signs and symptoms of Diabetes without actually being diagnosed. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), it is estimated that about 25% of adults living with the signs and symptoms of Diabetes are unaware that they have the disease.
What are the Causes of Diabetes?
Diabetes of the elderly differs from the same Diabetes that younger patients experience. While type 1 diabetes is often genetic, type 2 diabetes is developed over time. Diabetes cannot always be prevented, but knowing the risk factors can help you prolong the occurrence or reduce the severity of the symptoms. A few common causes of type 2 diabetes include:
- Age: Individuals who are 45 years or older are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. The gradual decrease of insulin is more common with age and a buildup of Glucose in the blood.
- Family history: Genetics plays a significant role in the likeliness of developing both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
- Previous health: Previous history of either prediabetes or gestational Diabetes can increase the chances of developing type 2 diabetes.
- General health: Seniors who are overweight and who do not regularly consume a healthy diet and exercise
- often are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.
- Smoking: Elderly adults who have, or currently, smoke may also be at an increased risk for developing the disease.
- Hormone indicators: Some studies have also shown that lower testosterone levels in men and higher levels in women can lead to an increased chance of developing Diabetes later in life. Additionally, studies have found that elderly adults with a high tumor necrosis factor (TNF) are more at risk of type 2 diabetes, especially if they are dealing with obesity.
Multiple factors can lead to Diabetes in older people. Understanding the causes can help seniors manage complications and reduce the risk of the disease.
What are the Symptoms of Diabetes?
Diabetes often presents itself in the following symptoms:
- Increased appetite
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Blurry vision
- Slow healing injuries
- Increase in urine
- Numb extremities
- Dental problems
Unfortunately, many of these symptoms can go ignored and are sometimes written off to getting old. However, Diabetes is a severe medical condition that requires treatment.
How is Diabetes Treated?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for Diabetes. However, it is possible to manage and treat the symptoms of Diabetes. One of the main goals of treatment when dealing with elderly patients with Diabetes is to control blood glucose levels as quickly as possible. This can reduce the symptoms and the likeliness of other complications.
The treatment of Diabetes will also depend on the type of Diabetes and the symptoms that are present. An individual with type 1 diabetes requires a daily injection of insulin. People with type 2 diabetes disease can often control their symptoms through lifestyle changes or medications.
Treatment options might include:
- Lifestyle change: Healthier eating, assistance with quitting smoking, daily exercise, and other lifestyle changes can help to reduce the symptoms of Diabetes. Removing fat and sugar from the diet is an essential step while also working toward weight loss. Avoiding certain foods is also important in the treatment of Diabetes. Diets high in saturated fats and low in complex carbohydrates are at an increased risk of developing Diabetes.
- Pharmaceutical medications: Seniors who are eligible for medication management may benefit from medications like Alpha-glucosidase inhibitors and Thiazolidinedione.
- Insulin: Insulin is a common treatment method. Insulin is injected into the body with a needle or insulin pen. Some patients with more severe cases of Diabetes may need an insulin pump.
- Practice stress management: High amounts of stress can exacerbate the signs and symptoms of Diabetes. Additionally, seniors dealing with Diabetes are more likely to have heart disease, which can be worsened with intense stress.
The treatment of Diabetes will depend on the symptoms present and the progression of the disease. People with Diabetes might also need to adjust their treatment plans based on what is working and what is not.
When to See a Doctor for Diabetes
Because Diabetes is common in seniors, the ADA recommends that adults over the age of 45 years be screened annually. However, if you are also experiencing any symptoms of Diabetes, it is best to schedule an appointment with your doctor, rather than waiting for your annual checkup.
Your doctor will also look for any signs of prediabetes. If your doctor finds that you have prediabetes, then they may be able to provide you with treatment options that prevent it from turning into the type 2 diabetes disease.
Your doctor will perform a complete evaluation of your general health. They will consider your treatment options against your current health, psychological wellbeing, current medications, and physical activity. They will perform a random plasma glucose test to measure your glucose levels. They might also request that you return for additional random testing to compare your results.
An A1C test will identify your average glucose levels over the last three months and will be used for comparative reasons. To get a better idea of your glucose levels, your doctor might request that you prepare for a fasting plasma glucose test. This test requires that you test after eight hours in which you have fasted.
Finally, an oral glucose tolerance test may be needed to measure the differences between glucose consumption. Your doctor will first measure your glucose levels after fasting overnight. Then, they will measure again two hours after consuming a drink with sugar. However, the oral glucose tolerance test is most often used when testing for type 1 or Gestational Diabetes.
American Diabetes Association (ADA) follows these guidelines:
- Normal fasting Glucose level: less than 100 mg/dL
- Prediabetes fasting level: 100-125 mg/dL
- Diabetes diagnosis: 126 mg/dL or higher on two different fasting tests
If the tests are not consistent, your doctor may order alternative types of diabetes tests. If you are diagnosed with prediabetes or Diabetes, your medical provider will discuss your treatment options. It is important to follow your medical provider’s instructions closely and to discuss any medications or concerns with them.
Your doctor might also screen you for any cognitive impairment if Diabetes is considered. Seniors who have Diabetes are at an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and depression.
Medications for Diabetes
Medications are often used to treat Diabetes. Just a few of the most common medications include:
- Alpha-glucosidase inhibitors: α-Glucosidase Inhibitors reduce the amount of simple sugars that are absorbed and digested into the gastrointestinal tract.
- Thiazolidinedione: Thiazolidinedione increases insulin sensitivity so that the bodies’ tissues are more sensitive to insulin.
- Biguanides: Metformin, a form of a Biguanide, is a medication that will reduce the production of Glucose, while also working to prevent insulin resistance.
- Sulfonylureas: Sulfonylureas are a preferred treatment option for Diabetes that is due to the decreased absorption of sugars due to older age. This medication encourages the pancreas to increase its production of insulin. However, this medication has shown to be most effective in patients who were diagnosed before the age of 40 or who have had the disease for five years or less.
- Meglitinides: Meglitinides work similar to Sulfonylureas, but tend to be a better choice for seniors who also have low blood sugar concerns. Diabetes medications can affect blood sugar levels, so seniors with previous interests might prefer this alternative medication.
- Insulin: Insulin is often used to treat both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. The greatest risk of insulin in elderly patients is the ability to mix insulin and complete injections on their own accurately.
Other drugs might be available when dealing with Diabetes. It can also be useful to keep up with medications that assist other co-occurring conditions, which can worsen the effects of Diabetes. People coping with type 2 diabetes will also need to take care to monitor blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
Diabetes Risk Factors
Diabetes can affect anyone at any age or gender. However, you might be at an increased risk of developing Diabetes if you have the following characteristics:
- High body fat: Obesity and having an upper-body fat calculation of 25% for men and 20% for women can increase your risk of developing type 2 Diabetes.
- Genetics: Genetics is a huge indicator of type 2 diabetes risk. Having a direct family member, such as a parent or sibling, can significantly increase your chances of developing Diabetes.
- Age: Your bodies’ ability to break down glucose decreases with age after 45 years. For this reason, it is crucial to schedule an annual physical exam to test blood sugar levels and blood glucose levels.
- Mental wellbeing: High amounts of stress can affect your bodies’ hormones and their ability to work effectively. Self-care is crucial in preventing common senior disorders, including heart disease and diabetes mellitus.
Being aware of the certain risk factors that lead to Diabetes mellitus can help you take the necessary steps to a healthy lifestyle with minimal symptoms.
Whether you were recently diagnosed with prediabetes or have learned that you are at an increased risk of adult-onset Diabetes, fortunately, there are steps that you can take to prevent a worsening of your condition. These factors might help with managing your Diabetes:
- Prevention begins early: Waiting until you are a senior to test for things like blood sugar levels and blood glucose levels can make it difficult to take action. Begin monitoring your levels before symptoms present themselves.
- Avoid obesity: Obesity significantly increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Include fruits and vegetables in your diet and develop an exercise routine that you will stick to.
- Monitor other types of Diabetes: Having a history of Diabetes, like gestational Diabetes, can indicate the likeliness of Diabetes later in life. Taking care to monitor gestational Diabetes now can prevent complications later.
- Quit smoking: Smoking is a leading cause of type 2 diabetes.
Taking steps like testing your blood sugar levels and quitting smoking can significantly decrease the likeliness of type 2 diabetes.
Special Concerns for Elderly Patients
While Diabetes can affect anyone at any age, there are a few concerns to be aware of when dealing with the symptoms as an elderly patient. Seniors are often dealing with multiple health concerns, which can be worsened by the symptoms of Diabetes. Additionally, it can be more difficult to come to a diagnosis when the symptoms of Diabetes can indicate other health concerns.
Seniors are at a higher risk of experiencing complications due to Diabetes. Potential side effects include autonomic neuropathy, nephropathy, retinopathy, and erectile dysfunction. Diabetic people are more likely to have cardiovascular heart disease and cerebrovascular problems. These concerns are even more likely when Diabetes is left untreated.
The treatment of Diabetes can also be more difficult for elderly patients. Weight management and exercise are important treatment methods when dealing with the symptoms of Diabetes. Elderly adults dealing with other conditions like arthritis may find it more difficult to exercise. Financial or mobility difficulties can make it more difficult to maintain a healthy and well-rounded diet. Some seniors might also find it hard to make multiple physician appointments for testing blood sugar and glucose levels.
Medications used to treat Diabetes can also be harsh on the body and may interact with other medications. Hypoglycemia is a common risk among senior patients during the treatment of diabetes symptoms. Hypoglycemia is a condition of low blood sugar that can lead to feeling lightheaded and dizzy. Additionally, it can be even more difficult to identify the occurrence of Hypoglycemia, which is characterized by loss of cognitive impairment, which can be confused with signs of dementia in the elderly.
Hearing loss is also common for seniors dealing with type 2 diabetes. In fact, seniors with type 2 diabetes are twice as likely also to have hearing loss, which can present a challenge when understanding doctor’s orders. Finally, the significant impact of Diabetes on a senior’s life can be life-changing and can lead to impaired cognitive ability, which can also lead to depression. Some medical professionals believe that Diabetes increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, but it is not proven.
Questions to Ask Your Doctor
Knowing what to ask your doctor will help you understand your medical condition while also helping you evaluate your treatment options. Consider asking your doctor the following questions:
- What type of Diabetes do I have?
- How often do I need to have my glucose levels checked?
- Will this medication interact with any of my current medications?
- What can I do to prevent type 2 diabetes?
- How often do I need to have my blood pressure checked?
- Should I work with a nutritionist?
- Will weight loss help my condition?
- What are my cholesterol levels?
- How do I know if I have low or high blood sugar levels?
- Am I at risk of heart disease or any other medical complications?
It is important to discuss all of your concerns with your doctor. The best way to be active in your treatment, and the prevention of worsening your condition is to be aware.
Managing Diabetes is possible when working closely with your doctor. By maintaining a healthy blood sugar level, diet, and exercising regularly, you can control the symptoms that come with type 2 diabetes. Eating foods low in fat and sugar, along with daily exercise, can assist other treatment options like medications.
How Do You Live With Diabetes?
While Diabetes is a serious medical condition, it is possible to maintain a healthy lifestyle while managing the symptoms of it. The following actions can help you keep your type 2 diabetes symptoms at bay:
- Rely on your team of medical professionals: The effective management of diabetes symptoms is best managed with the assistance of a medical team. Seniors might find benefit in working with a nutritionist to improve dietary habits. A personal trainer or coach can assist seniors in reducing weight and adopting an exercise routine.
- Understand your treatment plan: Understanding the necessary steps of your treatment plan will help you stay on track.
- Focus on your general health: Multiple health conditions can worsen the symptoms of Diabetes. In addition to managing Diabetes, you can also practice good dental care, keep up with routine vaccinations, attend your yearly checkup, and follow all of your doctor’s orders.
Living with Diabetes is possible. With effective treatment, you can control your symptoms of Diabetes.
How to Help Your Loved One Post Diabetes
Managing the overwhelming symptoms of Diabetes can be difficult. You can help your loved one by being there for them and helping them develop a treatment plan. Encourage them to stay active by taking walks with them or signing them up for an aqua aerobics course.
Changing dietary habits can also be as difficult as a senior. You can help your loved one by assisting them with grocery shopping and meal planning. Because cognitive impairment is common, you can also help them by keeping track of their medical appointments and exercise requirements. Seniors will also have to be active in monitoring and managing their glucose levels. You can help them by creating a chart and reminding them to complete it.
Fortunately, seniors will find that most insurance providers will cover the medications needed to treat Diabetes. However, specialty appointments with nutritionists or exercise trainers may not be covered. It is important to consider all of your health conditions when deciding on a healthcare policy.
For More Information Contact
These sites will provide you with additional information about diabetes prevention and treatment:
- American Diabetes Association
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- American Association of Diabetes Educators
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
More Information to Know About Diabetes
Type 1 vs. Type 2 diabetes
It is important to know the different types of Diabetes. Each type has a different onset and treatment options available.
- Type 1 diabetes: With type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin. This is a type of autoimmune condition in which the immune system attacks the pancreas, which is responsible for making insulin. In most cases, because the body is unable ever to produce insulin, which may be due to insulin resistance, type 1 diabetes is diagnosed in children and young adults.
- Type 2 diabetes: Type 2 diabetes is when the body does not produce enough insulin to keep up with its needs. It is the most common type of Diabetes in elderly people. Because type 2 diabetes is due to a slowdown of the insulin production, it is most often young adults and seniors that are diagnosed. Over time, insulin resistance can occur.
Gestational Diabetes is another type of Diabetes that occurs when the decrease in insulin production is due to the hormonal changes during pregnancy. While seniors are not at risk of gestational Diabetes, previously dealing with Gestational Diabetes can be an indicator of a type 2 diabetes diagnosis later.
With awareness and a focus on your overall health, it is possible to manage the symptoms of Diabetes. A healthy diet, exercise, monitoring of blood sugar and glucose levels, and close communication with your doctor can also prevent the disease from worsening.