Diabetes is a serious disease, and it affects many older adults. People get diabetes when their blood glucose, also called blood sugar, is too high. The good news is that you can take steps to delay or prevent type 2 diabetes, which is the most common form of the disease to develop in older adults. If you already have diabetes, there are steps you can take to manage the condition and prevent diabetes-related health problems.
What is diabetes?
Our bodies turn a lot of the food we eat into sugar, called glucose, which gives us energy. To use glucose as energy, our body needs insulin, a hormone that helps glucose get into our cells. If you have diabetes, your body may not make enough insulin, may not use insulin in the right way, or both. That can cause too much glucose to stay in the blood, which can cause health problems over time. Your family doctor may refer you to a doctor who specializes in taking care of people with diabetes, called an endocrinologist. Often, your family doctor will work directly with you to manage your diabetes.
Types of diabetes
There are two main kinds of diabetes.
• In Type 1 diabetes, the body does not make insulin. Although older adults can develop this type of diabetes, it begins most often in children and young adults, who then have diabetes for life.
• In Type 2 diabetes, the body does not make or use insulin well. It is the most common kind of diabetes. It occurs most often in middle-aged and older adults, but it can also affect children. Your chance of getting type 2 diabetes is higher if you are overweight, inactive, or have a family history of diabetes. Women with a history of gestational diabetes (a type of diabetes that develops during pregnancy) also have a greater chance of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
Diabetes can affect many parts of your body. It’s important to manage diabetes because, over time, it can cause serious health problems like heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, eye problems, and nerve damage that may lead to amputation. Also, people with type 2 diabetes may be at greater risk for cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.
What is prediabetes?
Millions of older Americans have “prediabetes.” This means their glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be called diabetes. People with prediabetes have a greater chance of developing type 2 diabetes and having a heart attack or stroke.
If you have prediabetes, there are things you can do to prevent or delay getting type 2 diabetes. Losing weight may help. Healthy eating and being physically active can make a big difference. Work with your doctor to set up a plan to help you make healthier food choices and get regular exercise. Get help with quitting smoking (if you smoke), because smokers are more likely than nonsmokers to develop type 2 diabetes. Make sure to ask how often you should have your glucose levels checked. Your doctor may also talk with you about taking medication to delay or prevent type 2 diabetes.
For more information on diabetes in older people, from the National Institute on Aging, CLICK HERE.