Commitment + Clinical Leadership = Better Outcomes
Diabetes in Older Adults
Diabetes is a condition that affects how the body produces insulin and manages sugar.
Whenever you eat something, the sugars from food dissolve into your bloodstream. As a response, your body produces insulin to regulate your blood sugar levels. However, if you have diabetes, your body either can’t produce insulin or is incapable of making enough insulin to manage the sugars in the bloodstream.1
Diabetes is also becoming an increasingly common condition that much of the population faces: a 2017 report estimates that 12.2% of adults above the age of 18 had diabetes in the year 2015. Most people with diabetes are diagnosed between 45-50 years old, making this a condition that many older adults face.2
Many older adults are faced with the challenge of changing their lifestyle to manage diabetes once they discover the condition. Here’s some information about diabetes and how you can manage it if you are diagnosed.
Early Warning Signs
88 million Americans are at risk for diabetes because they have prediabetes. Prediabetes is a condition where the body’s blood sugar levels are high but not high enough to develop diabetes. It is estimated that 1 in 3 adults have prediabetes and are at risk for type-2 diabetes.3
If caught early, prediabetes can be treated. While prediabetes doesn’t usually show signs and symptoms, some ways that you can tell that you’ve recently developed diabetes include:4
- Darkened skin on the elbows, armpits, or neck
- Thirst/dry mouth
- Excess hunger
- Cold hands/feet
- Blurred vision
- More frequent urination
- Itchy skin
- Wounds not healing fast
- Unexplained weight loss
Some of the most common risk factors for prediabetes include:5
- Weight – The more fatty tissue your body has, the more resistant your cells become to insulin.
- Waist size – Waist size can make it harder for your body to process insulin. Men should have a waist size less than 40 inches and women should have a waist less than 35 inches.
- Age. Prediabetes risk increases after the age of 45, making diabetes a condition many older adults face.
- Diet. What you eat can impact the amount of sugar your body absorbs. Eat a healthy diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts to lower your risk of prediabetes.
- Activity. Those who are inactive have less control over their weight, and weight plays an impact on how well your body manages insulin.
- Genetics. If someone in your family has diabetes, especially a parent or sibling, then you might be at risk.
- Sleep. People with sleep apnea are more likely to develop diabetes.
- Smoking. Smoking has been found to increase your chance of prediabetes because it lowers your body’s insulin resistance.
Types of Diabetes
There are two main types of diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2.
Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes stops your body from producing insulin, and researchers believe this is due to an auto-immune reaction. It is estimated that 5-10% of people who have diabetes have type 1.1
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is when the body can’t produce enough insulin to regulate your body’s blood sugar levels. Usually, type 2 diabetes is diagnosed in older adults, but there have been an increasing number of cases where children, teens, and young adults are diagnosed.1
Risks of Diabetes
If diabetes is left untreated, there are many problems that can occur when your blood glucose levels become high. Some of these risks include:6
- Cardiovascular problems such as heart disease
- Kidney damage
- Eyesight loss
- Skin problems
- Nerve damage
People who are diagnosed with diabetes are twice as likely to experience hearing loss than someone without the condition.7
One study of 11,405 participants ages 20-69 had the participants take a hearing test as well as a diabetes questionnaire. Those who had diabetes struggled at with all hearing frequencies (low, middle, and high).8
One reason researchers believe that diabetes is linked to hearing loss is because the hair cells in the ears rely on good blood flow circulation. However, once the hairs are damaged, they are unable to regenerate and translate sound. High blood glucose levels damage the blood vessels in the inner ear and cause permanent hearing loss.9
If you have diabetes or are at risk for developing diabetes, paying attention to your hearing is critical. If you notice that your hearing is beginning to worsen, that might be a sign that you need to visit a doctor.
Currently, there is no cure for diabetes. However, it’s important to manage it in order to protect yourself from bodily damage from high blood sugar levels.
Here are some tips to help you manage your blood sugar levels.
Eat a Healthy Diet
What you eat plays a huge impact on your body’s overall blood sugar levels. Every food item has natural sugars that affect your blood sugar directly.
A system called the glycemic index has been designed to help diabetics eat foods that keep blood sugar levels low. Each piece of food has a different glycemic index value that indicates how much it will raise the body’s blood sugar levels.
The chart goes as follows:10
- Low GI: 1 to 55
- Medium GI: 56 to 69
- High GI: 70 and higher
Foods that are high in sodium and saturated fats such as pastries, candy, fried foods, sodas, juices, and cereals have a high glycemic index. Foods like fruits, non-starchy vegetables, grains, and nuts tend have a low glycemic index.11
If you are a diabetic, you will need to be conscious about the quantity and combination of foods that you eat to make sure they don’t spike your blood sugar levels. Meals should be portion controlled and have a healthy balance of starches, fruits, vegetables, dairy, protein, and fats.
When you exercise, your body utilizes glucose for energy. Regular exercise is one way you can reduce your blood sugar levels because insulin sensitivity is increased during a workout and your cells are better able to utilize glucose after an activity.12
When you exercise, it’s important to check your blood sugar levels periodically to ensure that they aren’t too low during a workout. A blood sugar of 70mg or lower is considered unsafe for exercising. You should aim to stay in the range of 100-250 mg/DL.13 If your blood sugar is too low, eat a piece of fruit or a snack to raise it before exercising.
Some exercises that have been found to make a positive impact on glucose levels include:14
- Strength training
- Tai Chi
- Balance training
- High-intensity interval training (HITT)
Talk to your doctor if you’re interested in exercising to control your blood glucose levels. Your doctor can let you know how you should approach exercising as well as how long you should exercise.
Get Regular Doctor Check-Ups
If you are an older adult with diabetes, you will need to see your doctor every 3 to 6 months for regular exams that check your blood glucose and weight. It is critical to make sure that you don’t skip these appointments because unstable glucose levels can cause cardiovascular problems and other health issues if left untreated.15
Some of the tests a doctor will perform for a diabetic patient include:16
- A1C test. This checks your average blood sugar levels and allows your doctor to assign any necessary treatment plans.
- Foot exam. It’s important to get your feet checked because diabetes can cause nerve damage and numbness.
- Blood Pressure Check. Your doctor will check your blood pressure. A healthy blood pressure is lower than 120/80 while high blood pressure is 190/90. High blood pressure affects 2/3 who have diabetes, and it can play a role in increasing your risk of eye, heart, kidney, and blood vessel damage.
- Lipid profiles. Because diabetics are susceptible to high cholesterol, your doctor will check if your levels are too high.
- Kidney Functioning. Your kidneys help your body manage waste and fluids. However, people with diabetes are at risk for kidney failure and kidney disease. Your doctor will check to see if your kidneys are functioning properly.
- Eye Exam. Because diabetes can cause blindness, regular eye exams can catch any early problems.
- Dental check. Germs are more likely to be present in your mouth when the body has high blood sugar levels. If you are a diabetic you are at risk for cavities and gum disease, and you will need regular check-ups to make sure your teeth is healthy.
Learn to Manage Your Diabetes
Diabetes is a serious condition, but taking the right steps can help you manage your health as you age. Continue to learn more about diabetes and ask your doctor if you have any questions about managing it.
Here at Saber Healthcare, we help our residents achieve their wellness goals by working with them every step of the way. To learn more about our company and what we have to offer, click here.
Saber Healthcare is an organization dedicated to providing consultant services to long term care providers. This article is for informational purposes and is not meant to be seen as professional advice. Please consult with a medical expert before relying on the information provided.
- “What is Diabetes?” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Last reviewed 11 June 2020. Accessed 22 October 2021. Link: https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/diabetes.html
- Huizen, Jennifer. Weatherspoon, Deborah, ed. “The average age of onset for type 2 diabetes.” Healthline Media, MedicalNewsToday. 26 April 2019. Accessed 22 October 2021. Link: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/317375
- “Prediabetes - Your Chance to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Last Updated 11 June 2020. Accessed 22 October 2021. Link: https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/prediabetes.html
- “What Are the Warning Signs of Prediabetes?” Bon Secours. 14 Jan 2021. Accessed 22 July 2021. Link: https://blog.bonsecours.com/healthy/prediabetes-risk-factors-warning-signs/
- “Prediabetes.” Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). 22 September 2020. Accessed 22 October 2021. Link: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/prediabetes/symptoms-causes/syc-20355278
- Bazemore, Nichole. Dansinger, Micheal. “Dangers of Uncontrolled Blood Sugar.” WebMD. 6 December 2020. Accessed 22 October 2021. Link: https://www.webmd.com/diabetes/uncontrolled-blood-sugar-risks
- “Glycemic index diet: What's behind the claims.” Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). 25 August 2020. Accessed 22 October 2021. Link: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/glycemic-index-diet/art-20048478
- “Low Gylcemic Meal planning.” New Hanover Regional Medical Center. Accessed 22 October 2021. Link: https://www.nhrmc.org/~/media/testupload/files/low-gylcemic-meal-planning.pdf?la=en
- “Blood Sugar and Exercise.” American Diabetes Association. Accessed 22 October 2021. Link: https://www.diabetes.org/healthy-living/fitness/getting-started-safely/blood-glucose-and-exercise
- “Diabetes and exercise: When to monitor your blood sugar.” Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). 22 December 2020. Accessed 22 October 2021. Link: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diabetes/in-depth/diabetes-and-exercise/art-20045697
- “Exercise & Glucose: Why Fitness Impacts Your Glucose Levels.” New Hanover Regional Medical Center. 15 April 2021. Accessed 22 October 2021. Link: https://www.nutrisense.io/blog/exercise-blood-glucose
- “6 Ways to Protect Your Hearing As You Age.” Saber Healthcare Group. 20 July 2021. Accessed 22 October 2021. Link: https://www.saberhealth.com/news/blog/protect-your-hearing-as-you-age
- “Hearing Loss Is Common in People with Diabetes.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health. 16 June 2008. Accessed 22 October 2021. Link: https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/hearing-loss-common-people-diabetes
- Clason, Debbie. “The connection between diabetes and hearing loss.” Healthy Hearing. 12 November 2018. Accessed 25 October 2021. Link: https://www.healthyhearing.com/report/52910-Diabetes-and-hearing-loss
- “Diabetes tests and checkups.” Medline Plus. 8 October 2021. Accessed 25 October 2021. Link: https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000082.htm
- “7 Essential Medical Tests for People With Diabetes.” NutriSense. 31 August 2020. Accessed 25 October 2021. Link: https://www.healthgrades.com/right-care/diabetes/7-essential-medical-tests-for-people-with-diabetes