Important Facts About Diabetes in the Elderly

Older people can suffer from any number of illnesses, just like younger people. Nevertheless, a few chronic disorders are predominating in the elderly. Heart disease, stroke and cancer are the leading killers, along with diabetes. Type 2 diabetes effects a significant number of senior citizens, and the numbers are increasing ever year. Diabetes is a major cause of disability in those over 65, but no matter how old the patient is diabetes can be treated with success.

What Causes Diabetes?

Diabetes occurs when the body doesn’t manufacture enough insulin, or fails to process its insulin well. This causes sugar to build up in the blood. Type 1 diabetes is usually present from childhood and requires insulin shots to survive. Type 2 diabetes, accounting for more than 90 percent of all cases, usually occurs in adulthood. Type 2 cases may or may not require insulin shots.

Who is Affected?

With a general population that is increasingly obese and sedentary, diabetes is on the rise in the United States, and it hits older people the hardest. One if five people over 60 has diabetes. Women suffer a disproportionately high toll, as do African American, Hispanic, and American Indian populations.

Obesity and physical inactivity are major risk factors for type 2 diabetes in adults. Not coincidentally, most elderly women with diabetes are 20 percent or more over their desired weight.

What Should You Look For?

In addition, about 40 percent of the middle-aged population has pre-diabetes, meaning they run a higher risk of developing the disease. Tests for blood sugar levels are an easy and effective means of detecting pre-diabetes. Otherwise, the disease can be hard to spot in its early stages, when it may produce few symptoms, or when its symptoms may not seem serious.
Symptoms include:

  • Frequent urination
  • Excessive thirst
  • Extreme hunger
  • Unusual weight loss
  • Increased fatigue
  • Irritability

People with some of these symptoms should see a doctor. Sugar in the blood may sound harmless, but it leads to a host of serious complications, including heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney failure, and deaths from flu and pneumonia. The average cost of health care for a diabetic is 10 times that for a person free of the disease.

Diabetes Care

Though a cure for diabetes has yet to be discovered, its deadly complications can be prevented or postponed with early detection and careful self-management. Those with diabetes, and their caregivers, must educate themselves about care and be careful with diet, exercise, and doctor’s visits. They should have regular eye exams, blood pressure checks, foot exams and flu and pneumonia vaccinations.

Keep an eye out for the symptoms of diabetes when caring for an elderly loved one, and let their doctors know if you notice any of the warning signs. Diabetes is manageable, but only if both you and your loved one are vigilant and careful.

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