Comprehensive Guide to Diabetes

Updated: Jul 17, 2022

AgingInPlace.org keeps our resources free by working as an affiliate partner with some companies mentioned on our site. These partnerships or the commission we may earn do not affect our opinions or evaluations of the products we mention. Our reviews are solely based on our research methodology and from input from our AgingInPlace.org Advisory Board. Learn more about our ad policies.

Diabetes is a disease that involves problems with hormone insulin, affecting your blood sugar levels, and brings with it new challenges as you grow older. Monitoring your diet and blood sugar is an issue for diabetics of any age. However, aging in place makes it more important than ever to streamline your self-care.

You may be checking labels with reading glasses or bifocals and doing your daily exercise with less of your former agility. As you think of proper diabetic foot care, you must also need to take conscious care to prevent falls.

And as you manage your insulin, you may also be managing new health and mobility issues.

Types of Diabetes

There are three major types of diabetes:

  1. Type 1 Diabetes
  2. Type 2 Diabetes
  3. Gestational Diabetes

The higher your blood sugar is and the longer you leave it untreated, the more at risk you are for complications.

Type 1

Type 1 used to be called juvenile-onset diabetes, because it often occurs in childhood, but it can develop at any age. In type 1 diabetes, the body seemingly attacks the insulin producing cells in the pancreas and as such, doesn’t produce the insulin needed. An excess of sugar then builds up in the bloodstream.

Type 2

Type 2 diabetes is by far the most common and while it too can develop at any age, it’s more frequent to develop in people after their 40s. While a milder form of diabetes than type 1, type 2 diabetes can still cause major health complications. People who are overweight and inactive are at a highest risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

There is no cure for diabetes, however type 2 can be controlled and managed with diet, nutrition, and exercise. If not managed, type 2 diabetes will worsen and medications are often needed. Further medical complications can still occur, even with medication.

Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes develops during pregnancy, as a result of hormonal changes. While we don’t know what causes gestational diabetes, we do know it is caused when you body is unable to make and use the insulin needed for pregnancy, causing high blood sugar.

An A1C test averages the glucose levels in your blood over the prior three months. The A1C test is used to diagnose diabetes, as well as to regulate and monitor levels in those already diagnosed. The test, which should be taken regularly with a diagnoses, will also indicate if your medications need to be adjusted.

Diabetes Graphic

Symptoms Of Diabetes

Diabetes symptoms are the result of rising blood sugar; general symptoms can include:

  • Increased hunger
  • Increased thirst
  • Blurry vision
  • Constant urination
  • Fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Skin infections or slow healing sores
  • Tingling or numbness in the hands and feet

Risk Factors For Diabetes

  • Weight
  • Inactivity
  • Family history
  • Age
  • High blood pressure

Diabetes Complications

When your blood sugar runs too high you risk damaging organs and tissues throughout your whole body. The higher your blood sugar is and the longer you leave it untreated, the more at risk you are for complications, such as:

  • Heart Disease/Heart Attack
  • Stroke
  • Hearing Loss
  • Vision Loss
  • Dementia
  • Depression
  • Skin Conditions

Lifestyle

How You Can Live Better With Diabetes

Diabetes is a chronic illness, and as such cannot be cured. However, it is not a debilitating illness; there are many steps seniors can take to manage their diabetes so they can still enjoy a vibrant lifestyle.

Diet and exercise are the most effective ways in which older adults can control their blood sugar. And luckily, these are steps they can take at home—no prescription or high-tech equipment required. Not only do these practices help keep your blood glucose in a healthy range, they also prevent other complications from developing.

In addition to eating healthier and getting active, you may also benefit from befriending other older adults who are making the same changes. Fostering a network of friends can help you stay consistent with your diabetes management.

Diabetes Lifestyle Tips

Making sure others—especially strangers—are aware of your condition in case you have an emergency is a smart idea. If you were to have a hypoglycemic attack, your behavior could be mistaken for drunkenness; left untreated hypoglycemia can lead to seizures or a coma.

Do You Have Diabetes?

Even if you don’t know you have diabetes or prediabetes, check your blood sugar and schedule regular medical checkups. About one-quarter of Americans over 65 are diabetic and one-half of them are prediabetic.

23.8% of people with diabetes right now are not aware that they have the condition.

This proportion is expected to increase rapidly in the coming decades. Diagnosed cases total 23.1 million, while 7.2 of those Americans remain undiagnosed. This means that 23.8% of people with diabetes right now are not aware that they have the condition.

If You Are Already Diagnosed, Has Your Condition Changed?

Ask your doctor about your current condition. Monitoring your A1C helps you assess what you may need to change. The earlier you know that your medication needs to be increased or updated, the better you will feel.

A glucometer can measure your glucose levels, monitor your blood sugar, track your body’s insulin needs, and coordinate with your doctor your best treatment plan. Be sure to notify your doctor if you notice any changes in your health or skin.

You will want to consult with other health care professionals for your diabetes treatment plan, including a nutritionist (diet), optometrist (vision), endocrinologist (endocrine system), and a podiatrist (feet).

Nurse testing the diabetic patient

Diabetes Health Tips

Go Mediterranean

You want to keep saturated fats to less than 7% in your new eating habits. A Mediterranean diet, or a low-carbohydrate, low-fat/low calorie diet is the healthiest way to control your blood sugar.

Maintain Your Balance

If any exercise regime is new to you, it’s best to start slow and concentrate on your balance. We’ve come up with the Top 10 Balance Exercises to Improve Balance and Coordination to help you start and get your feet firmly on the ground.

Stop Smoking

Smoker are 30%-40% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than nonsmokers. And those with diabetes who do smoke are more likely to have insulin issues, and a higher risk of heart and kidney disease. If you do not smoke, do you best to stay away from secondhand smoke.

New Risks of Older Diabetics

Mature diabetics are more likely to die prematurely. They face greater risks than older non-diabetics of losing their functional ability or muscle mass, and their chances of coexisting illnesses like coro-nary heart disease or hypertension, and end-stage renal failure are higher.

They are more likely to experience falls or strokes or to have cognitive impairment, urinary inconti-nence, persistent pain, and polypharmacy (multiple medications for the same condition.) All these issues may affect their ability to manage their diabetes and overall health.

Seniors with diabetes face a higher risk of all types of cognitive
decline.

Seniors with diabetes face a higher risk of all types of cognitive decline, from subtle executive dys-function to dementia. Worsening cognitive function is linked to poor glycemic control, and the longer you live with diabetes, the more likely researchers believe that your cognitive function will decline. Studies are not yet clear on whether a later onset of diabetes may prolong cognitive func-tion. But whenever it declines, self-care becomes a serious problem for diabetics. It affects his or her ability to monitor glucose, adjust insulin doses, and maintain a healthy diet.

Diabetes Testing

Diabetes and Medicare

Medicare will cover a variety of medical services in relation to diabetes, including hospital stays and doctor appointments, depending on your coverage. You may have a copayment or coinsurance, or have to pay a deductible.

Medicare Part B Covers:

  • Diabetes screenings
  • Blood glucose test strips
  • Blood glucose monitors, lancet devices, and lancets
  • Glucose control solutions for accuracy of test strips and monitors
  • Foot exams (every six months) and treatment
  • Glaucoma tests
  • Insulin pumps and the insulin used (under durable medical equipment if you meet certain condi-tions)
  • Therapeutic shoes or insets

Medicare Part D Covers:

  • Anti-diabetic drugs
  • Diabetes supplies to administer insulin (syringes, needles, gauze, and alcohol swabs)
  • Insulin (that isn’t administered with an insulin pump)

Diabetes Technology Tips

Diabetes Apps

Thankfully, with the increase in technology, more and more resources are being made available for people with diabetes. Even your smartphone can work as an aide as there are several apps designed to monitor, manage and help you stay of a healthy diabetic track. Eating and exercise included! Some of our favorites include:

  • MyNetDiaryPro – allows you to understand the nutrient components of the food you’re eating and the food you need to eat, and keep track of your choices. It also syncs with fitness tracks and adds helpful tips for extra activities and exercises.
  • mySugr – has been named one of the top diabetes apps for the past couple of years. The basic app helps manage blood glucose patterns and can help manage diet, medication, and glucose levels.
  • Myfitness pal – is still one of the most popular – and FREE – calorie counter, nutrition, and exercise keepers available.
Technologies to Watch

Every year new technology is either released or goes into development stages. But before they can be presented to the public they must be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Diabetes Self-Management released the 10 technology offerings to watch and hopeful use, in 2019.

What You Can Do

Even with a long list of factors that can affect your health and ability to care for yourself, a tailored plan can ensure that your “future self” is taken care of. Clinicians recommend screening older dia-betics for diabetes complications. They also advise screening for depression and geriatric syn-dromes, including cognitive impairment.

If you currently take insulin, you know how important cognitive ability and good visual and motor skills are. Either you or a reliable caregiver must be able to titrate them to meet individualized gly-cemic targets. This prevents hypoglycemia—a serious risk which diabetes researchers continue to study intensely. With this in mind, multiple daily injections may someday become too complicated if you have advanced diabetes complications, limited functional ability, or other problems. Your doctor can advise you or your caregiver on whether once-daily basal insulin injections are right for you.

Diet And Nutrition

Type 1 and younger-onset Type 2 diabetics may need to fine-tune their wellness routines to keep up with the needs of their changing bodies. This means continuing to avoid desserts, sugary drinks, and learning to cook from scratch. People with diabetes have the same nutritional needs as anyone else, you just need to plan your meals accordingly to manage your diabetes. Focus on fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains.

Depending on your stage of diabetes, the timing of your insulin dosage may be determined by your diet and exercise. Doctors usually recommend three small meals with interspersed snacks to maintain the proper blood sugar/insulin balance.

Exercise

Regular, consistent exercise under your doctor’s care reduces the risk of co-existing health issues that can further complicate your diabetes management. Even if you are out of shape or have other health problems, your blood sugar will eventually stabilize if you get moving regularly.

Start with small steps; aim for 10 or 15 minutes of physical activity—talk a walk, swim some laps, or ride your bike—and eventually up it by increments.

Diabetes Testing

Community

Set up a good social support network from the beginning and involve them in shared decision-making. Any social isolation can seriously affect your quality of life and independence. Even the way you live affects diabetes management and support.

Whether or not you age in place alone—and however long you have been a diagnosed diabetic— managing your condition requires proper planning. Managing diabetes is more than just keeping your blood sugar under control. The condition itself can become more challenging to control over time. But if you start early and are diligent about it, you may avoid many complications later in life.

  • Was this Article Helpful ?
  • YesNo