Along with other chronic conditions common in seniors, diabetes is a disease that affects about 27% of seniors over the age of 65. There are two main types of diabetes, type 1 and type 2, with type 2 being more common in older adults. According to the CDC, there is currently no cure for diabetes.
What is diabetes
Diabetes is a chronic condition where the cells in your pancreas are destroyed and no longer producing insulin. Insulin is a hormone that allows our cells to use glucose from food for energy by allowing the sugar to enter the cells from our blood. When your pancreas functions normally, excess glucose is stored by the liver and muscle tissue as glycogen. The glycogen is broken down and released back into the bloodstream for energy when we exercise, or while sleeping. With type 1 diabetes, our bodies cannot process the glucose due to the lack of insulin, leaving too much glucose in the bloodstream. Elevated blood sugar levels can lead to short and long-term problems.
Symptoms of type 1 diabetes include:
• excessive hunger
• excessive thirst
• blurred vision
• frequent urination
• rapid significant weight loss
Treatment for type 1 diabetes:
People who have type 1 diabetes have to take insulin daily, usually through an injection. Some patients use an insulin pump that administers insulin through a port in the skin. Some people find it easier than injecting themselves, and the pump helps to regulate blood sugar throughout the day. The amount of insulin required to maintain varies throughout the day based on diet and activity, so frequent testing for blood sugar is necessary.
Metformin is an oral medication for diabetes. Originally used for people with type 2 diabetes, it can be helpful to type 1 patients who have developed insulin resistance by reducing blood sugar production in the liver.
A recent study found that people with type 1 diabetes who were administered two injections of a tuberculosis vaccine called the bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine saw their blood sugar levels stabilize for five years or longer. This option is still in the trial phase and hasn’t been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Type 2 diabetes:
Although people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes have similar symptoms and complications, the diseases are quite different. With type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks the cells in the pancreas. Genetics and environmental impacts such as viruses may be the cause. With type 2 diabetes, the cells no longer adequately respond to insulin, inhibiting our body’s ability to transfer glucose from the bloodstream into the cells, even though enough insulin is produced. Unlike type 1, which can develop very quickly, and the symptoms are easy to diagnose, type 2 typically develops over a long period of time. This results in many people being unaware they have it until a complication arises.
• Weight loss
• Increased thirst
• Urinating often
• Blurred vision
These same symptoms can appear with old age, so it’s often mistaken for just “getting older.” Scheduling routine check-ups with your primary doctor can help you to stay on top of your health.
• Heart disease
• Alzheimer’s disease
• Kidney disease
Occurs when your blood sugar levels are elevated, but not enough to be considered diabetes. If you are someone with pre-diabetes, losing weight and healthy eating can reverse pre-diabetes in the early stages.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, seek medical attention for treatment immediately. There is no known way to prevent type 1 diabetes, but there are different ways to manage this disease. You can help stabilize your blood sugar through a proper diet which includes eating fiber, vegetables, and fruits. Seniors with type 1 diabetes are at a high risk of hypoglycemia or low blood sugar levels. Asking your doctor for a personalized low blood sugar level will help you to better track the levels
There are a couple of different tests that your doctor will use to determine if you have diabetes and which type.
Types of tests for diabetes and pre-diabetes
Glycated hemoglobin (A1C) test: This tests your average blood sugar levels over the past three months. This test measures the amount of blood glucose that attaches to the hemoglobin. The A1C test is also used in diabetes management.
Random blood sugar test: This test can be done at any time of the day, regardless of when you last ate. This test will determine how high your blood sugar levels are. Levels of 11.1 mmol/L or higher indicate you may have diabetes.
Fasting blood sugar test: This test checks your blood sugar after you have fasted for eight hours, usually overnight.
Oral glucose tolerance test: This test is administered two hours after fasting overnight (8 hours). Then after consuming a sugary drink and then your blood sugar is tested again.
No matter if you are suffering from type 1 or type 2 diabetes, understanding the seriousness of this disease is important. In older adults, your risk for other common health conditions is much higher than younger patients. Proactive management of your weight, diet, which includes eating foods high in fiber and exercising daily, can help manage and even prevent diabetes. If you are experiencing any symptoms of diabetes or if there is a family history, get tested as soon as possible.