Diabetes in Seniors: What You Should Know

Along with protein and fat, glucose is one of the human body’s main sources of energy. A type of simple sugar, it provides the fuel cells need to carry out their various functions. Unfortunately, many people suffer from a metabolic disorder that results in excessively high levels of glucose. Known as diabetes, it’s particularly common among seniors.

What Is Diabetes?

Diabetes mellitus, or what’s more commonly known simply as diabetes, refers to a metabolic disorder in which a person’s blood sugar levels remain high for an extended period. Blood sugar levels are a measurement of how much glucose is in a person’s blood. Normally, the human body does a pretty good job at regulating glucose to keep blood sugar levels in check. There are instances, however, in which a person’s blood sugar levels may rise and remain elevated for an extended period, resulting in diabetes.

While all instances of diabetes involve elevated blood sugar levels for an extended period, there are two specific types of diabetes, including the following:

  1. Type 1 Diabetes: The most severe type, type 1 diabetes is characterized by a person’s inability to produce a sufficient amount of insulin. It occurs when the immune system attacks the pancreas. Because the pancreas is responsible for producing insulin, this attack results in low insulin levels and, therefore, high blood sugar levels.
  2. Type 2 Diabetes: The most common type, type 2 diabetes is characterized by a person’s inability to use insulin. It’s essentially a form of insulin resistance. A person’s pancreas may produce a sufficient amount of insulin, but if he or she suffers from type 2 diabetes, they won’t be able to use the insulin to process glucose for energy or storage.

How Common Is Diabetes In Seniors?

Along with arthritis, diabetes is one of the most common medical conditions from which seniors suffer. According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), over one in four U.S. adults aged 65 and older are diabetic. To put that number into perspective, about 12 million seniors in the United States have diabetes, either diagnosed or undiagnosed.

Why Diabetes Is So Common In Seniors

Diabetes can affect men and women, as well as children, of all ages. Seniors, however, have a higher risk of developing this metabolic disorder than their younger counterparts.

There are a few reasons for the high rates of diabetes in seniors, one of which is the simple fact that the pancreas functionality decreases with age. The pancreas typically creates insulin to counter high levels of glucose in the blood. Like many organs in the human body, though, its performance decreases with age. As a person grows older, his or her pancreas may struggle to create a sufficient amount of insulin.

Seniors also have a higher risk of developing diabetes than their younger counterparts because of their sedentary lifestyles. Many seniors suffer from arthritis, back pain or other physical ailments that limit their mobility. As a result, they aren’t able to exercise as frequently as they should. With insufficient physical activity, these seniors are more likely to experience extended periods of high blood sugar levels.

Signs and Symptoms of Diabetes in Seniors

If a senior is diabetic, he or she may exhibit a number of different symptoms. Type 2 diabetes, for example, often manifests with flu-like symptoms, including lethargy, muscle aches and weakness. The decreased circulation associated with diabetes can also cause numbness or a pins-and-needles sensation in the hands and feet.

Seniors suffering from type 2 diabetes may also struggle to maintain a healthy weight. Sudden weight loss is a telltale sign of type 2 diabetes. With type 2 diabetes, the senior’s glucose won’t be converted into energy. In turn, the senior’s body will begin to burn fat and muscle (protein) for energy, resulting in sudden and/or significant weight loss.

Not all seniors who suffer from type 2 diabetes will lose weight. Nonetheless, sudden and/or significant weight loss is a common sign of type 2 diabetes in seniors.

Tips to Assist a Diabetic Senior

If you know a senior family member or friend who’s diabetic, there are a few things you do to help him or her manage this otherwise common metabolic disorder. First and foremost, make sure the senior is attending all his or her doctor appointments. Only a professional and licensed physician can offer a customized diabetes management plan to best treat the senior’s condition.

You can encourage the senior to spend more time exercising as well. Lack of exercise is a leading risk factor of type 2 diabetes. If a senior doesn’t get enough exercise, his or her body won’t be able to efficiently use insulin and glucose, thus increasing the senior’s risk of type 2 diabetes.

Of course, eating the right foods is essential to managing a senior’s diabetes. Seniors should typically choose foods low on the glycemic index to help regulate their blood sugar levels. Low glycemic foods offer longer and more sustainable energy while helping to keep blood sugar levels in check.

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