November is American Diabetes Month, and ATRIO Health Plans is working to increase awareness that older adults
with diabetes are particularly at risk for medical complications.
If you were to randomly gather four Americans age 65 or older, statistics
indicate that at least one will have type 2 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes occurs when people's bodies don't produce enough
insulin, or their cells don't properly process the insulin that is
produced. As a result, glucose stays in the bloodstream. Over time, accumulated
glucose can lead to a wide range of serious medical complications.
The most common complications associated with diabetes are:
Cardiovascular Disease–Diabetes significantly increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. It
may also lower good cholesterol (HDL) and raise bad cholesterol (LDL).
Cognitive impairment–Studies have shown that the higher blood sugar levels associated with diabetes
may have a damaging impact on the aging brain, potentially increasing
the risk for dementia.
Hearing loss–Older adults with diabetes are twice as likely to experience hearing loss
compared to their non-diabetic peers. That's because high glucose
levels over time can damage small blood vessels and nerves inside the
ear. It's thus recommended that seniors with diabetes have periodic
Mobility difficulties–According to experts, at least half of the diabetic patient population
will develop neuropathy. While neuropathy can produce an array of symptoms,
most commonly sufferers report numbness or a reduced ability to feel pain
in their feet and toes, as well as tingling or burning sensations and
pain that increases while walking or sleeping.
Nephropathy–Diabetes can impair the kidneys' ability to filter blood and eliminate
waste excreted in urine, and nephropathy (kidney damage) can result. Symptoms
of nephropathy include: swollen hands, feet, and ankles; anemia; shortness
of breath; and high blood pressure. In severe cases, kidney function can
be lost entirely, leading to end-stage renal disease.
Vision problems–Older adults with diabetes are at elevated risk for eye problems such as
glaucoma, cataracts, and even blindness. A leading cause of blindness
is diabetic retinopathy, which occurs when prolonged high blood sugar
damages the blood vessels of the retina, causing them to break and leak
blood into the eye, clouding or obscuring vision. Seniors with diabetes
are advised to proactively control their blood sugar levels and to have
annual eye exams.
Of course, the most effective means of avoiding diabetes complications
is to avoid the development of diabetes.
It can be done, as evidenced by a National Institutes of Health clinical
trial. Specifically, participants over age 60 reduced their risk for type
2 diabetes by a whopping 71% through a combination of improved nutrition,
increased physical activity, and achieving a 5% to 7% weight loss. By
making a few small changes these seniors secured immense health benefits.
There's no time like November–American Diabetes Month–to
follow their lead.