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Chronic Condition News

December 2013

Diabetes Can Be Challenging for Older Adults

Diabetes is never easy to manage. That may especially ring true if you are older than 65. Older adults tend to face more health challenges than younger people with the disease.

Multiple conditions

Your chance of developing diabetes climbs as you age. In fact, diabetes affects more than one-quarter of American adults ages 65 and older. Some have already been diagnosed with the disease—others are yet to be.

Why does age matter? As you grow older, your body may start to have trouble using the hormone insulin. Also known as insulin resistance, this disorder often stems from weight gain, age-related muscle loss, and a lack of physical activity. Without lifestyle changes, insulin resistance can eventually become diabetes.

Many older adults also struggle with other chronic conditions besides diabetes - heart disease, arthritis, or high blood pressure, to name a few. It's not uncommon for older people to have all 3—or even more. These additional health concerns can complicate diabetes care. Instead of managing one disease, you may end up juggling many.

Specific age-related challenges

Drug interactions can be a major challenge for older adults with diabetes. That's especially the case for those with other chronic conditions. Keeping track of medications can pose problems. What's more, not all drugs work well with diabetes medication. They can amplify side effects.

Falls can be another hazard. In general, older people are more likely to take a tumble. But it's even more of a danger for those with diabetes. Drug interactions play a large part. Side effects, such as dizziness, can affect balance. Diabetes complications, such as vision loss or leg numbness, can also hinder movement.

Older people with diabetes are more vulnerable to depression and dementia, too. These 2 conditions can limit daily activities. They can also interfere with diabetes self-care. For instance, a person with dementia may forget to take medication or check blood sugar levels.

These additional challenges can erode an older person's quality of life. Older adults with diabetes are up to 3 times more likely to have trouble walking, climbing stairs, and doing housework.

Learn more about diabetes complications and related challenges here.

Controlling Diabetes: 5 Tips for Older Adults

Here are 5 ways older adults can better manage their diabetes:

  • Watch out for drug interactions. Tell your doctor about all the medications you are taking—whether prescription or over the counter.

  • Fall-proof your home. Remove tripping hazards, such as loose rugs and power cords. Install hand bars in tubs.

  • Exercise regularly. It can help you lose weight. Plus, it builds muscle and refines balance.

  • Eat smart. Notify your doctor if you have trouble swallowing or problems with smell or taste.

  • Don’t ignore signs of dementia or depression. Early treatment can help you better manage your diabetes.

Online resources

American Geriatrics Society Foundation for Health in Aging – Diabetes: Unique to Older Adults

National Institute on Aging – Diabetes in Older People - A Disease You Can Manage

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