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A guide to understanding type 2 diabetes

by Shannon Lee

Seniors are at a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and the complications that come along with the disease. Careful diabetes management can prevent diabetes-related medical problems in the elderly.

Elder Health and Diabetes: What You Need to Know

Diabetes management can be difficult for even the most able-bodied people with diabetes. Elderly individuals with diabetes might find themselves in an even tougher situation.

An Increased Risk of Diabetes in the Elderly

Studies have shown that the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes increases with age. In fact, an estimated half of all new diabetes cases are diagnosed among those age 55 and older. Among Americans over the age of 60, the American Diabetes Association estimates that about 18 percent are diabetic.

Diabetes management can be difficult for the elderly. Consider that by the age of 75, one in three men are physically inactive. For women, that number goes up to one in two. Couple that with the natural decline in insulin production as a body ages, mix in the increase in glucose intolerance in the elderly, and the risk factors for developing Type 2 diabetes become significant.

Symptoms of Diabetes

The symptoms of Type 2 diabetes can sometimes mimic those of other conditions, especially in elderly patients. It is important to be on the lookout for those symptoms that could add up to a problem with blood sugar levels. The symptoms of diabetes include:

* Urinating more often than usual
* Feeling thirsty and hungry all the time
* Losing weight without trying
* Feeling tired and irritable
* Blurry vision or other vision problems

Beyond Diet and Exercise

Those with Type 2 diabetes often benefit from a healthy diet and exercise regimen. However, many seniors can't make the changes required in diet and exercise, thanks to other medical conditions they might have.

Here are a few practical tips that might be helpful in managing diabetes:

Always take medication as directed. If there are several different medications to be taken, a system of keeping it all organized might be a good idea.

Eat healthy, nutritious meals at regular intervals. Be aware of the symptoms of hypoglycemia and stay prepared with glucose tablets or high-energy snacks.

Closely monitor blood pressure and cholesterol. Problems with high blood pressure and high cholesterol are two to four times more likely among elderly diabetics. Have labratory tests done at regular intervals.

Don't miss doctor's visits. If you can't drive yourself to appointments, ask someone else to take the wheel, or rely on public transportation. The doctor's visits are a very important part of diabetes management.

Diabetes treatment can pack a financial punch. Talk to your doctor about ways to save on prescriptions, visits, and diabetic necessities. Look into programs for seniors, such as Medicaid or Medicare--they might cover some or all of the cost of your treatment.

Consider using an insulin pen. If you are on insulin and have problems handling the syringe or insulin bottles, consider moving to an insulin pen. You can also look into specialized diabetes products for those with arthritis or other mobility issues.

Helping the Elderly with Diabetes

Caregivers of the elderly can help prevent diabetes complications by making certain their loved one follows all the instructions of their doctor. Through careful planning and close attention, diabetes can be managed--and the better health that will result can lead to happier, more productive golden years.