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Diabetes Especially Serious for Seniors

Diabetes Especially Serious for Seniors

November is American Diabetes Month, and ATRIO Health Plans is recognizing this this annual educational effort by spreading the word that this disease should be taken seriously - especially by seniors.

The reason is this: According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), some 12-million Americans age 65 and older have diabetes. That represents more than 25 percent of this age group, which is the highest rate among all age groups.

Understanding Type 2 Diabetes

The vast majority of older adults suffer from type 2 diabetes, and half of all Americans age 65 or older have prediabetes and are thus at risk for developing type 2 diabetes. Given the prevalence of type 2 diabetes among seniors, it's crucial that those is this group take steps to manage the disease or - preferably - prevent it all together.

Type 1, which is the rarer form of diabetes, occurs when the body doesn’t produce insulin; as a result, injections of insulin are required daily. In contrast, those with type 2 diabetes don't produce enough insulin, or their cells don't properly process the insulin that is produced. Consequently, glucose stays in the bloodstream; over time, accumulated glucose can cause damage to the heart, kidneys, nerves, and eyes, placing diabetics at greater risk for heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, nerve disease, blindness, and amputations.

According to the National Diabetes Education Program, the risk of developing prediabetes or type 2 diabetes increases for those who have one or more of the following characteristics:

  • Getting little or no exercise;
  • Being overweight by 20 pounds or more;
  • Having a family member with type 2 diabetes;
  • Being more than 45 years old;
  • Giving birth to a baby weighing more than nine pounds;
  • Having gestational diabetes during a pregnancy.

The ADA advises that a physician should be consulted if any of the following symptoms of diabetes are noticed:

  • Frequent need to urinate;
  • Increased thirst;
  • Unusual weight loss;
  • Blurry vision;
  • Cuts or bruises that are slow to heal;
  • Fatigue.

Preventing type 2 diabetes

Unlike type 1 diabetes, steps can be taken to stave off type 2 diabetes. For seniors, among the most effective steps are losing weight and increasing physical activity. Recommendations from the ADA include:

  • Eating a healthy diet - Choose foods that are high in vitamins, minerals and fiber, as well as those that are low in fat, salt, and sugar. A balanced daily diet should include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low- or nonfat dairy products, lean meats, poultry, and fish.
  • Exercising regularly - Engage in physical activity for 30 minutes per day, five days a week. Suggested activities include walking, dancing, swimming, gardening, aerobics, and cycling.
  • Practicing good oral hygiene - Good oral hygiene, including brushing and flossing daily as well as seeing a dentist regularly, helps to manage diabetes. The dental-diabetes connection is attributable to the fact that diabetes weakens the immune system, thus increasing the risk of developing periodontal disease.

A positive aspect of diabetes is that it can be controlled, and the complications associated with the disease can be delayed or even prevented with good self-management skills, such as eating sensibly and exercising regularly. These aren't difficult steps to take, and they can make a tremendous difference in your health.