How to Avoid Diabetes in Old Age: A Non-Invasive Way to Monitor Your Senior Parent’s Health

April 11, 2023

Image: Artem Podrez, Pexels

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!

What Are Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes About?

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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.

Health Problems Get More Complicated With Age

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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.

It has also been associated with frailty, i.e., loss of strength and mobility. It is essentially a debilitating disease and a predisposing factor for falls among the elderly.

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.

Step in for Your Elderly Loved Ones: How to Avoid Diabetes in Old Age?

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.

1. Diabetes Prevention and Management Require a Healthy Diet and No Smoking

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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.

If your loved one already has diabetes, here are the essential recommendations from the American Diabetes Association (ADA) in terms of nutrition:

  • Contrary to popular belief, fruit is healthy even if you have diabetes, as most of them have a low GI (glycemic index). But avoid fruit juices as they have little to no fiber.
  • Limit your salt intake — over 75% of the salt we eat comes from processed foods such as bacon, sausages, and cheese. So opt for whole foods instead — they are also lower in saturated fats! When cooking, you can add herbs and spices for flavor, instead of salt.
  • Fill up on non-starchy vegetables, as they have a lower GI.
  • Eat nuts and seeds for the healthy fats that are good for your heart.
  • Avoid foods and beverages with added sugar. Increase your water intake instead.
  • As for protein, the ADA recommends beans, nuts, seeds, eggs, and lean meat. They also put a positive emphasis on plant-based options as being "a great protein choice." So, don't shy away from whole foods like chickpeas and whole grains or foods that have been processed very little, like tofu and tempeh (complete proteins).

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.

2. Help Your Loved One Maintain a Proper Weight

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.

3. Pay Attention to Foot Care

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.

4. Early Detection Is Key to Avoid Complications

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.

5. Consider Medical Intervention

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:

  • To promote insulin secretion (directly or indirectly)
  • To promote insulin action
  • To replace insulin (e.g. injections with either human insulin or analog insulin)
  • To stimulate the kidneys to excrete glucose
  • To diminish the appetite — this solution is not usually used in the older population, for reasons stated earlier in the article.

6. Monitor Your Parent’s Health and Well-Being at Home

The CareAlert device and App

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.

Final Thoughts

Image: Alex Green, Pexels

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.

If you need more information on CareAlert or to find out whether it is a right fit for you and your aging loved one, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our team.

5 min read

How to Avoid Diabetes in Old Age: A Non-Invasive Way to Monitor Your Senior Parent’s Health

Keep your elderly loved ones healthy with these tips on how to avoid diabetes in old age.
Written by
Alec Whitten
Published on
17 January 2022


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