What You Need to Know About Diabetes and Older Adults
Diabetes mellitus is a group of diseases characterized by high levels of blood glucose (sugar) that result from defects in the way insulin is produced and used by the body. What this means is that when we eat food, it is turned into glucose for our bodies to use as energy. The pancreas then produces a hormone called insulin to help get the glucose into our cells. If a person is a diabetic, their body cannot make enough insulin or use the insulin that it does make as well as it could. This causes the glucose to build up in their body, resulting in a variety of serious and often life-threatening conditions.
Who Is Affected?
Diabetes is when your blood glucose, also called blood sugar, is too high. Blood glucose is the main type of sugar found in your blood and your main source of energy. Glucose comes from the food you eat and is also made in your liver and muscles. Your blood carries glucose to all of your body’s cells to use for energy. Your pancreas—an organ, located between your stomach and spine, that helps with digestion—releases a hormone it makes, called insulin, into your blood. Insulin helps your blood carry glucose to all your body’s cells. Sometimes your body doesn’t make enough insulin or the insulin doesn’t work the way it should. Glucose then stays in your blood and doesn’t reach your cells. Your blood glucose levels get too high and can cause diabetes.
People who think they might have diabetes must visit a physician for diagnosis. They might have SOME or NONE of the following symptoms:
- Frequent urination
- Excessive thirst
- Unexplained weight loss
- Extreme hunger
- Sudden vision changes
- Tingling or numbness in hands or feet
- Feeling very tired much of the time
- Very dry skin
- Sores that are slow to heal
- More infections than usual
Diabetes occurs in every age group. Although type 2 diabetes can affect individuals at any age, it is more likely to develop in middle-aged and older people. In addition, those who are overweight, have a family history of the disease, are physically inactive, are African American, Hispanic/Latino American, Asian American, Pacific Islander or American Indian also have increased risk of developing diabetes.
Over time, diabetes can lead to serious problems with your blood vessels, heart, nerves, kidneys, mouth, eyes, and feet. These problems can lead to an amputation, which is surgery to remove a damaged toe, foot, or leg, for example. The most serious problem caused by diabetes is heart disease. When you have diabetes, you are more than twice as likely as people without diabetes to have heart disease or a stroke. With diabetes, you may not have the usual signs or symptoms of a heart attack. The best way to take care of your health is to work with your health care team to keep your blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels in your target range. Targets are numbers you aim for.
Diabetes cannot be cured, but it can be controlled. Here are a few things you can do to help manage your diabetes:
See a doctor on a regular basis. Only a doctor can accurately determine whether or not you have diabetes and what the next steps are for treating it.
Take your medication as prescribed by your physician. There are a variety of medications such as insulin injections that can help control your diabetes and prevent it from from getting worse or causing complications. It is important that these medications are taken as prescribed by your doctor.
Monitor your blood glucose level regularly. Ask your doctor about how you can effectively monitor and manage your blood glucose level. This is important in making sure you control your diabetes.
Watch what you eat. Ask a member of your healthcare team to help you develop a schedule of meals and snacks. Eat foods that are lower in calories, have less fat, less sugar and less salt. Do not skip meals, as this can make your blood glucose level fall.
Be active. Physical activity can help you control your blood sugar and manage your diabetes. Always consult with your doctor before increasing your activity level or starting an exercise program.
*Information in this material is strictly educational. We recommend that users consult with their doctor regarding their care.
For more information about diabetes and other related health risks, listed below are resources available to you: