As people age, it’s easy to mistake symptoms of Type 2 diabetes as simply part of the process of getting older. Increased thirst, increased urination, fatigue, poor healing of wounds and vision changes such as blurred vision or no longer needing corrective lenses are all signs of diabetes which often get brushed aside.
“If you start to notice red flags as described, your primary care provider can order blood tests to determine if you have prediabetes or Type 2 diabetes. Prediabetes is when your blood sugar is higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes,” said Michelle Stancil, a registered nurse and manager of Greenville Health System’s Diabetes Management Programs.
“An estimated 25 percent – or 1 in 4 people – over 65 years of age have diabetes, and many are undiagnosed,” she said. “Nearly 50 percent of people over the age of 65 have prediabetes. Prediabetes can lead to Type 2 diabetes.”
Stancil suggested that understanding the statistics and taking a proactive approach by visiting your primary care provider can greatly increase your ability to prevent or delay Type 2 diabetes if diagnosed with prediabetes – or to manage Type 2 diabetes.
Stancil recommended visiting www.doihaveprediabetes.org for more information on prediabetes and to complete an online questionnaire. Share the results with your primary care provider, but further bloodwork may be needed. For individuals diagnosed with prediabetes, please consider the Diabetes Prevention Program.
“The Diabetes Prevention Program is a yearlong lifestyle change program that utilizes a CDC approved curriculum – there are 16 weekly meetings with monthly follow-up. Participants learn to make realistic lifestyle changes, incorporating healthy eating, exercise and stress management,” Stancil said. “The group dynamic is amazing; the participants bond over the course of a year and also share successes. We’ve found that those who participate in DPP usually have a greater success rate. Making realistic and sustainable lifestyle changes is not easy, and we’re here to help.”
If you are diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, a healthy diet plays a key role in managing it. Meal planning, basic healthy eating practices and a consistent carbohydrate diet can help. As the main energy source for the body, too many carbohydrates can cause hyperglycemia in people with diabetes. A heart-healthy diet – one that emphasizes fruits, vegetables and whole grains and limits unhealthy fats – is recommended because diabetes can more than double the risk of a heart attack or stroke.
Treatment for Type 2 diabetes requires an individualized approach. For some, it can be managed with lifestyle modifications like healthy eating and exercise. Metformin – designed to help your body use insulin more effectively – is usually the first line of medication prescribed. Today, there are many medication options.
A healthy exercise routine is equally important in managing diabetes. It is recommended that seniors work toward 30 minutes of aerobic exercise five days a week and do strength training as well.
While being active is easier said than done in the face of health problems that can develop with age, it’s never too late to begin an exercise routine. Statistics show that most people over the age of 65 don’t maintain a healthy lifestyle, and, for many, that is because they don’t know where to begin or are afraid of taking on too much. Whether you have never exercised regularly or you used to be active and find it hard to come back from a break, small changes can lead to big differences in your health. Exercise as simple as walking or joining a dance class is a good way to get moving.
There is no cure for diabetes, but, in most cases, it can be controlled with medication, a healthy diet and consistent exercise.
A referral to an accredited Diabetes Self-Management Education Program is also recommended. For additional information, please visit www.diabetes.org.
“Let’s get back to the numbers: Twenty-five percent of people over 65 have diabetes. Nearly 50 percent of people over 65 have prediabetes. That’s 75 percent of those 65 and older who have one of the two,” Stancil explained. “We are here to assist with evidence-based programs both for prediabetes and diabetes.”
By Anne Shuler Toole