Seniors Living With Diabetes

In the U.S., about one in four people over 60 has diabetes. It's a disease with no cure. Fortunately, seniors living with diabetes can successfully manage the disease. We'll look at the disease itself and show you smart ways to live with the diabetes.

Types of Diabetes

Diabetes is a group of diseases attributed to high blood glucose levels resulting from defects in the body's production and use of insulin.

The pancreas-produced hormone insulin controls the body's glucose. In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas does not produce enough insulin. People with type 1 are given insulin via injection or a pump. About 5% of all adult diabetics have type 1.

Symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes

  • Frequent urination
  • Unusual thirst
  • Extreme hunger
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the pancreas does not make enough insulin or does not use effectively what it does produce. Type 2 typically develops in people over 40. It accounts for about 95% of all adult diabetes cases.

Type 2 Diabetes

  • Any of the Type 1 symptoms
  • Wounds that heal slowly
  • Numbness and/or tingling in the feet or hands
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Blurred vision

Causes of Diabetes

Diabetes is on the rise and doctors aren't sure of the true cause. At least they can't pinpoint anything specific. However, genetics, aging and lifestyle all play a part. Having a sedentary lifestyle and being overweight seem to increase the risk, especially in older adults. Diabetes also seems to run in families. All of these factors affect people in different ways.

Diabetes Complications

If not properly managed, diabetes can lead to some serious health problems.

  • Heart disease
  • Kidney problems
  • Eye problems and even blindness
  • Narrowing of the arteries
  • Foot problems

Hearing loss is another complication with diabetes. According to the National Institutes of Health, “hearing loss is about twice as common in adults with diabetes compared to those who do not have the disease.” Researchers believe diabetes may damage the nerves and blood vessels of the inner ear.

Exercise, Glucose and Diabetes

Having diabetes doesn't have to limit your exercise. In fact, exercising—even just walking 20 to 30 minutes three times a week—can significantly improve your body's use of glucose. Exercise will also improve your blood pressure and cholesterol, relieve stress, burn calories, increase your strength and flexibility, and lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. As a diabetic, there are a few things you should do when exercising.

  • Check with your doctor before starting any strenuous exercise program or if you are just starting to exercise.
  • Drink lots of fluids before, during and after exercise.
  • Check your glucose before, during and after exercising. If it’s under 100 mg/dL, eat some crackers or fruit or drink a glass of juice or milk. Make sure it's not over 300 mg/dL.
  • Bring snacks along

Controlling Diabetes with Drugs and Insulin

For some people, controlling diabetes with diet and exercise is not enough. Oral medications are sometimes needed to increase the amount of insulin or to assist the body's ability to respond to insulin. Examples of these drugs include Sulfonylureas, Biguanides, Thiazolidinediones, and Alpha-glucosidase inhibitors. There can be side effects (e.g. dropping blood glucose too much) from some of these drugs. Your doctor or pharmacist can educate you on each ones characteristic. As you age, your body makes less insulin so no matter what drugs you take, how go your diet is or no matter how much you exercise, you still may need insulin injections. Here are the most common insulin injections:

  • Rapid-acting insulin (lispro, aspart, and glulisine) works five minutes after injection and for 2 to 4 hours after.
  • Regular insulin (human) works within 30 minutes and is effective for 3 to 6 hours.
  • Intermediate-acting insulin (human) works within 2 to 4 hours and lasts for 12 to 18 hours.
  • Long-acting insulin (ultralente) is effective in 6 to 10 hours and remains effective for up to 24 hours.

Food Tips When Eating Away From Home

The American Association of Diabetes provided these tips for adults over 55-years-old.

  • Start your meal with a broth-based soup or salad
  • Get sauces and dressings on the side
  • Choose a fruit or vegetable side instead of fries
  • Use the Plate Method
  • Avoid buffets and all-you-can eat specials
  • If having a dessert, split it with your dining partner

Seniors Living with Diabetes: The Bottom Line

The American Association of Diabetes recommends these quick tips for those seniors living with diabetes day-to-day:

  • Bottom line: your health is up to you
  • Eating the right kinds of foods at the right amounts
  • Getting active
  • Checking your blood glucose
  • Taking medicine if prescribed by your doctor
  • Quit smoking
  • Learn all you can about diabetes

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Since graduating from Harvard with an honors degree in Statistics, Jeff has been creating content in print, online, and on television. Much of his work has been dedicated to informing seniors on how to live better lives. As Editor-in-Chief of the personal… Learn More About Jeff Hoyt