It’s estimated that around 4 million people in the UK have diabetes, and it’s a number that’s growing each year. If current trends continue, as many as 5 million could have it by 2025. Type 2 diabetes can be particularly prevalent in older members of the population, and directly inhibit their quality of life.
With this blog, we’ll take a look at how diabetes can affect older people and ways in which it can be managed.
What is diabetes?
In its most basic sense, diabetes is a condition whereby your body cannot produce enough insulin. Insulin is a hormone used to help the absorption of glucose into the cells, giving them energy. If your body can’t produce it, or produces it in the wrong way, then glucose remains in the blood stream and causes various health issues.
There are two types of diabetes.
Type 1 Diabetes is where the body simply doesn’t produce enough insulin to regulate the body properly. Usually Type 1 Diabetes occurs in children and young adults, although it can sometimes also manifest in older people as well. Type 1 Diabetes, once it appears, tends to be permanent.
Type 2 Diabetes, meanwhile, is when the body can’t utilise its insulin properly. This is the most common variety of diabetes, afflicting 90% of diabetics, and usually appears in older people. Unlike Type 1, Type 2 can manifest as a result of poor lifestyle, or as a result of family history. If caught and treated early enough, Type 2 Diabetes’ symptoms can be reduced.
As we’ve just covered, usually Type 2 Diabetes can appear later in life. Older people who live sedentary lifestyles are particularly vulnerable to developing it. Before diabetes manifests, older people may first experience what’s called “pre-diabetes”, which is very much what it sounds like. Not quite the full thing just yet, their glucose may still be higher than normal.
Symptoms of diabetes can include things such as:
Persistent hunger or thirst
Slowly healing flesh wounds
The constant need to urinate
A particularly troublesome part of spotting symptoms for diabetes is that they take a while to manifest, so many people don’t even realise it at first. Others may just dismiss these symptoms as being completely unrelated to diabetes. So, if you notice older relatives complaining about a mixture of these symptoms, consider arranging for them to see a doctor.
Living with diabetes
If caught early enough, you can prevent Type 2 Diabetes from developing. The cure is simple in theory, but potentially challenging in practice – you need to pursue a healthier lifestyle.
Eat less sugar and processed foods, get more exercise, sleep better, and give up unhealthy habits such as drinking or smoking. A healthier diet and an active lifestyle alone can slash the chances of developing Type 2 Diabetes clean in half.
Keeping active can be something of a challenge the older you get, so be sure to be creative in finding ways to exercise.
If you should be diagnosed with diabetes, there are ways it can be managed. The above will still be incredibly useful for keeping yourself fit and healthy, preventing further deterioration. As a diabetic, you will need to be more careful with your meals and snacks, especially when it comes to avoiding sugar and fats. If you’re prescribed medicine, take it regularly as instructed.
Further, you should probably arrange regular appointments with a specialist consultant in diabetic medicine, known as an endocrinologist. They will help monitor your blood sugar levels, check your physical condition, and prescribe the necessary medicines.
Keep in mind that older people with diabetes can sometimes suffer from cognitive impairments, such as depression. This makes self-management of diabetes trickier than usual, so make sure that someone is always on hand to assist them when needed. This can be anyone from a partner, to a family member, to a care worker.
Type 2 Diabetes cannot be cured once it develops, but through careful management and clean living it can be reversed to a degree. It isn’t gone – and it will worsen if you let it – but your blood sugar levels should normalise. As an emergency though, always keep some in-date medication on hand should there be a sudden upset.
At SuperCarers, we can help you find local carers with experience in diabetes care. Simply call us on 020 8629 1030 to find out more about home care options.
If you liked this article, you may also be interested in reading our guide to senior nutrition.