What You Need to Know as You Age
Growing old is not for the faint of heart. As we age, our bodies change in ways far beyond a few added wrinkles and gray hairs. Our metabolism slows. Our acuity can diminish. Our bones become more brittle. We can’t process oxygen as efficiently as we once did. Additionally, the body tends to process blood glucose less effectively than it did during those younger years of life.
Altogether, the perfectly natural changes that come with growing older can become major contributing factors to many diabetes-related complications. Consider that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 25% of adults aged 65 and older are currently living with diabetes, and about 50% of this age group are in the prediabetes phase (blood sugar levels approaching but not yet in the diabetes range), and it’s easy to see why age and diabetes is such a growing health concern.
Simply put, the combination of having diabetes and growing older puts a person at far greater risk for developing serious health complications.
Does diabetes contribute to aging?
This is a difficult question to answer. There is some evidence that prolonged high blood sugar levels can contribute to aging. However, there is little doubt that diabetes and its related complications can at the very least amplify the effects of aging. For example, it’s quite natural to develop vision issues as we grow older. However, these problems can be exacerbated by diabetes-related eye complications such as cataracts and macular edema. It’s also perfectly normal to develop some mild arthritis and swelling in the joints as we age. Compound this with diabetic neuropathy, which can cause swelling in the feet and ankles, and those minor mobility issues can become dramatically more complicated.
Aging and diabetes management - 6 factors to consider
There are a lot of things about growing older that can add to the challenge of effectively controlling blood sugar and managing diabetes. Here are six factors many seniors find themselves facing.
Increased insulin resistance
As we reach the later years in life, the body becomes less efficient at processing insulin. In seniors who are in the prediabetic stage, increased insulin resistance can increase the likelihood of developing Type 2 diabetes. In those who already have the disease, an increase in insulin resistance makes it harder to maintain blood sugar levels in the target range.
Diminished ability to focus
Live long enough and there’s a good chance you’ll see a decline in your mental acuity and ability to focus on tasks at hand. Obviously, this can take a toll on diabetes management as the responsibilities associated with it are many. From blood sugar testing to counting carbs to tracking physical activity to taking prescribed medication in the right dosage at the right time, a sharp mind is a big help when it comes to managing diabetes.
Many seniors find themselves requiring multiple medications to treat issues other than diabetes, such as high blood pressure and arthritis. Sometimes these drugs can interact in ways that impact blood sugar control.
Less than ideal vision
If you’re old enough, you probably at the very least keep a pair of “readers” handy. Vision diminishes as we get older and that can make it more challenging to read those tiny instructions on your lancets and test strips, and even the digital display on your glucose meter.
Loss of manual dexterity
Again, this can make it difficult to test blood sugar, as well as administer required insulin either by syringe or pen needle. Many doctors now prescribe Continuous Glucose Monitoring (CGM) systems and insulin pumps for their older patients. This makes managing diabetes easier, but it also tends to be far more costly than doing things manually.
Most seniors are living on a fixed income, and for many, money is a major issue. Managing diabetes, particularly when using more advanced equipment and supplies like CGM systems, can be cost-prohibitive for many on a tight budget. Additionally, there’s a good chance other medical conditions have developed that require costly treatment and medication, further adding to the financial burden. Sadly, many seniors fall off their diabetes health and treatment plan because the money simply isn’t there.
Living better as you age - 6 ways to do it
Until someone invents a working time machine, the best thing you can do to manage your diabetes and limit the risk of complications as you get older is to make it a point to live your best life right now. You can’t stop the clock, but there are ways you can remain healthier as you grow older.
Blood sugar control
The best thing you can do for long-term health is to keep your blood sugar in your doctor-recommended target range. Stick to your testing and treatment program; take your insulin and other medications as prescribed by your diabetes physician; notify your doctor anytime you have high or low blood sugar that you can’t get back under control. The older we get, the harder it can be to manage blood glucose. It’s important to make this a top priority.
Check your other numbers
There is a definite link between diabetes and heart disease. So, along with testing your blood sugar each day, be sure to monitor your other numbers. Check your blood pressure regularly to make sure it stays within the safe range. Have your cholesterol checked to make sure you’re not experiencing hardening of the arteries or other factors that can contribute to heart disease and stroke. As we age, blood sugar is just one of the numbers we need to watch more carefully.
Move, move, move.
Physical activity is not only important for managing blood sugar, but also critical to maintaining muscle mass, controlling weight, improving flexibility and balance, and increasing strength. Try to get in both aerobic (walking, biking, swimming) and strength training (weights, resistance bands). Together, they will not only help you maintain greater control over your blood sugar, but they’ll also aid in weight loss; help prevent cardiovascular disease, and even lower stress levels.
If you’re living with diabetes, you already know the critical role a healthy diet plays in managing the disease. As you get older, this becomes even more important. A diet low in fats and sugars will help you maintain a healthy weight even as your metabolism slows. You might also ask your doctor about natural supplements. Some older individuals have a hard time absorbing nutrients from the foods they eat. Supplements can help provide these missing vitamins and minerals.
Exercise your mind
Slowing down mentally might be more detrimental than slowing down physically. It’s important to stay mentally active by engaging others; learning new skills; playing games like chess or poker; or even just doing the weekly crossword puzzle. Give your brain a little exercise and it will help you better manage your diabetes and live a happier, healthier, more fulfilling life.
Get regular checkups
You can’t stop aging and you probably won’t be able to avoid every health complication as the years add up. However, when you catch issues early, your chances of overcoming them are far greater. Get regular checkups - vision, dental, heart, and, of course, diabetes. The sooner a problem is identified and addressed, the less chance it has of developing into something more serious.
None of us will ever beat Father Time. However, we can take steps to ensure our later years of life are as active, healthy, and rewarding as possible. Those living with diabetes face some added challenges when it comes to aging, but if you take proper care of your mind and body, there’s every opportunity to welcome old age with a smile on your face and a jump in your step.
As always, before making any adjustments to your diabetes health and treatment plan, including physical activity and dietary changes, it’s important to consult your diabetes physician.
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