Type 2 Diabetes and Seniors

Type 2 diabetes affects 95 percent of people with diabetes and 25 percent of all seniors in the U.S. 65 years of age and older.

It affects about 25.8 million Americans overall, 10.9 million of whom are 65 years of age or older. As the average lifespan of the population continues to rise, experts expect the numbers of Type 2 diabetes patients to rise as well due to the increase of people reaching advanced age.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that diabetes among seniors 65 years of age and older will increase 4.5-fold by 2050, compared with three-fold times increase among the general population.

The effects of Type 2 diabetes can be significant and are particularly concerning in seniors. According to the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse, Type 2 diabetes is the main cause of lower-limb amputations, blindness and kidney failure in the United States. It is also the leading cause of heart disease and stroke and the seventh top cause of mortality in the country.

The risks of serious Type 2 diabetes complications are even greater in seniors, particularly when a senior’s diabetes is not managed properly. Proper management of your Type 2 diabetes can help you keep your Type 2 diabetes symptoms at bay, prevent complications and empower you to lead a healthy, normal life in your golden years.

Symptoms and Complications of Type 2 Diabetes in Seniors

Common symptoms for anyone with diabetes include hunger, fatigue, extreme thirst and increased urination. Common complications from diabetes include numbness or pain in the feet or hands, blurred vision and erectile dysfunction in men. More severe complications include heart attack, stroke, blindness and other eye diseases, kidney disease, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

Other severe complications include infections that are slow to heal, nerve damage, and skin and foot problems. Seniors with Type 2 diabetes are at greater risk of all of these symptoms and complications. Part of the reason for this is the increase in insulin resistance that naturally occurs as you age, as well as natural aging-related impairments to pancreatic function. Certain Type 2 diabetes symptoms and complications affect seniors more commonly than they do people in other populations with the disease, including the following:

  • Vision trouble
  • Loss of hearing
  • Mobility challenges
  • Cognitive impairment

Seniors with Type 2 diabetes have the greatest incidence of End-Stage Renal Disease, visual impairment, myocardial infarction and major lower-extremity amputation of any age group. Seniors 75 years of age and older have even higher likelihood of experiencing all these complications. Older adults with Type 2 diabetes are also likelier than younger people of any age with the disease to die from a hyperglycemic crisis. Seniors 75 years of age and older have twice the rate of visits to the hospital emergency room for low blood sugar as the general diabetes population.

Early Detection, Early Treatment: Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes in Seniors

Being 65 years of age or older is, in and of itself, a risk factor for Type 2 diabetes. This is regardless of the presence of any other risk factors for the disease. For example, obesity is a general risk factor for diabetes, but even thin seniors can develop the disease. The presence of any other risk factor for the disease beyond advanced age, however, only increases your likelihood of developing Type 2 diabetes. Among these risk factors are the following:

  • Physical inactivity
  • Obesity
  • Heredity
  • Ethnicity

Two of these factors — heredity and ethnicity — are not within your power to influence. However, you can control the other two factors, physical inactivity and obesity, through lifestyle habits and preventive care actions.

If you have a family history of Type 2 diabetes or are of Native American, Hispanic-American, Asian-American, Native Hawaiian or African-American background, you should have your doctor track your blood sugar as you age. Non-Hispanic whites, however, are the highest group of Type 2 diabetes patients to experience onset of the disease after reaching 65 years of age.

The sooner your doctor identifies signs and risk factors of Type 2 diabetes, the sooner he or she can start early treatment that minimizes the impact the disease has on your health and your life. All adults are recommended to get a blood sugar screening a minimum of every two to three years, starting at 45 years of age. If your body mass index (BMI) is greater than 25, you should start that routine on a biannual or tri-annual screenings right away.

Seniors and Type 2 Diabetes Treatment

The most common cause of complications and organ deterioration in seniors with Type 2 diabetes is high blood sugar. Maintaining a proper blood sugar balance is one of the best actions you can take as a senior to manage your diabetes. Maintaining a healthy weight, adhering to a nutritious diet and getting regular exercise can all help with this goal.

While lifestyle changes and increased physical activity are common Type 2 diabetes treatments, your age-related restrictions might hamper you from implementing these treatments as significantly as needed. If medication is needed, you must be able to self-administer the medication consistently as prescribed. If not, you will need to have another trusted person, like a family member or an outpatient nurse practitioner, take responsibility for administering your medicine. This is common among seniors with dementia or certain other diseases.

If you reside in a nursing home, be sure your facility has diabetes resources, including at least one doctor trained in the disease on staff. You can find additional resources and support for your Type 2 diabetes as a senior from nonprofit organizations like the American Diabetic Association, American Diabetes Association, National Diabetic Association and The Diabetes Association.

It might also interest you: