April 11, 2023
As our loved ones get older, their bodies undergo many changes, increasing their susceptibility to diseases like diabetes. As caregivers, it is our responsibility to be proactive and assist them in maintaining their health.
Alarming statistics from the American Diabetes Association show that over 29% of Americans 65 of age and older suffer from diabetes. Even more concerning, the prevalence has more than doubled in the Western population in the past two decades.
However, there is hope, as diabetes is a preventable disease. You can help your elderly loved one avoid it by adopting measures like healthy eating, maintaining a proper weight, going to regular check-ups, and monitoring their well-being throughout the years.
In this article, we delve into the key differences between the most common types of diabetes and how aging complicates the disease. Most importantly, we will explain how you can step in and ensure that your aging loved one thrives in their golden years.
Continue reading if you want to learn how to avoid diabetes in old age!
There are several types of diabetes apart from type 1 and 2, but these are the most common.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, and it’s usually diagnosed in childhood — it is invariably treated with insulin. It’s sometimes called “insulin-dependent diabetes” or “childhood-onset diabetes,” but it can appear at any age. Even though it’s incurable, it can be managed with a healthy lifestyle to keep insulin doses to a minimum and avoid complications.
In the case of type 2 diabetes, most people with this form of disease still produce insulin, but the cells in their body resist it. As a response, their body produces more insulin, and glucose builds up in the blood.
Both types generate symptoms such as: fatigue, extreme thirst, frequent urination, blurred vision, numbness in the hands or feet. Without treatment, they can lead to complications like digestive and kidney diseases, vision loss, and even stroke.
Type 2 diabetes tends to get worse with time because your insulin-producing cells will not work as well. Furthermore, in elderly individuals, it is rarely an isolated medical concern, but rather, it is connected with heart disease, kidney disease, retinopathy, and neuropathy.
Lastly, diabetes also increases the risk of neurocognitive problems. The older population with this disease has a 1.5 to 2.5-fold risk of Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia.
Diabetes can be managed and even prevented, but it takes a team effort, including the senior, the caregiver, and healthcare provider, to do it successfully.
In this section, we will look at the best ways to keep seniors as far away as possible from this condition. In addition, the following advice is helpful even if they already have this disease, to avoid other health complications.
As people get older and tend to become less physically active (e.g. by retiring from the workplace or having reduced mobility), they likely need to rely on diet rather than on exercise to remain fit.
Even in your old age, it’s not too late to adopt a healthier lifestyle. If you start in your 70s, you can still make a difference in putting off the development of diabetes.
In addition, the FDA discourages smoking due to its negative impact on insulin regulation.
All in all, there is no such thing as a specific “diabetes diet”. Eat the low-glycemic rainbow and enjoy nourishing foods, full of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and healthy (non-saturated) fats.
Being overweight is one of the key risk factors of diabetes and prediabetes — patients are generally advised to lose weight, as a part of disease management. However, when it comes to older individuals, doctors have noticed that they are often malnourished or undernourished. An intervention to cut calories may do more harm than good.
If they do need to lose fat (for example, abdominal fat is especially problematic because it envelopes vital organs), it’s best to discuss with a dietitian and create a wholesome and filling meal plan that respects your aging parent’s caloric needs.
Also discuss with their primary care doctor about what level of exercise it would be best to perform. For example, tai chi is a gentle practice, proven to bring positive results in terms of balance and flexibility.
Older adults with DM (Diabetes mellitus) should have a foot examination every year to check skin integrity — and look for ulcers and infections. They also need to determine whether there is a loss of sensation or decreased perfusion in them (i.e., proper blood circulation).
Even if you don’t think you have diabetes, if you had a sore that took longer to heal than usual, you must tell your doctor about it.
Program regular check-ups for your elderly loved one and encourage them to talk about their issues openly.
The physician will need to know of any tripping and falling, and any unusual symptoms they may have had lately, like fainting spells or urinary incontinence.
Also take the opportunity to review the medication list with the doctor, in order to avoid any risks associated with polypharmacy (adverse reactions from mixing multiple drugs).
It's worth highlighting that when discussing how to avoid diabetes in old age, you must get a geriatrician's input because the general recommendations for adults need to be tweaked for the specific needs of seniors.
If lifestyle changes aren’t enough to avoid the risk of getting the disease, you must talk with your loved one and their doctor about other possible measures to control blood sugar levels.
Drugs can have various roles in helping people prone to or already diagnosed with diabetes or prediabetes:
Dr. Medha Munshi, geriatrician and Associate Professor of Medicine at the Harvard Medical School, warns that:
"Many older people cannot perform the tasks that are required to control their diabetes, including measuring their blood sugar, adjusting insulin accordingly, planning meals, timing their meals and medications, and following up on eye examinations and other appointments. Moreover, cognitive issues and other symptoms like depression often go undiagnosed. These are all barriers to getting good care, which, if we identify, we can do something about.” (Source: The Lancet)
This goes to show how vital the family caregiver’s part is in preventing or managing this disease.
Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to check up on the parent several times a day, in person.
As such, you may want to consider using an elderly monitoring system to help you stay on track with all their various daily tasks and habits.
CareAlert is a discreet device that uses Artificial Intelligence to learn and improve their daily routines. Through the accompanying mobile app, you receive notifications about any abnormal behaviour, activities, as well as any changes in their living conditions.
CareAlert can also collect health data (oxygen levels, blood pressure, weight, and so on) automatically, from selected health tech manufacturers, and display it on the app’s dashboard.
Furthermore, it allows you to set up vocal reminders so they don’t forget about important appointments or taking their medication.
By helping our elderly loved ones adopt a healthy lifestyle and monitor their well-being at home, we can help them prevent or manage diabetes. It's never too late to make positive changes in our lives, nor to help our parents and grandparents do the same.
Remember, the information in this article is not a substitute for medical advice. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any changes to your loved one's diet, exercise routine, or medical treatment.