Managing Type 2 Diabetes in Older People

The number of seniors with diabetes is growing, but there are ways to control the disease

More than 29 million Americans are living with diabetes, reports The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and 86 million are living with prediabetes, a condition that increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases.

People get diabetes when their blood glucose level, sometimes called blood sugar, is too high. There are two main kinds of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. In type 1 diabetes, the body makes little or no insulin. Adults can develop this type of diabetes, but it occurs most often in children and young adults.

In type 2 diabetes, the body makes insulin, but doesn’t use it efficiently. The most common kind of diabetes, type 2 occurs most often in middle-aged and older adults, but it can also affect children. Your risk for type 2 diabetes rises as you age, if you are overweight or inactive, or if you have a family history of diabetes.

Many people who have prediabetes may be unaware of their condition. Prediabetes means glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be called diabetes. People with prediabetes are at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes although the onset can be prevented or delayed with weight loss, healthy eating, and being physically active.

Living with diabetes as you age

As people get older, their risk for type 2 diabetes increases, says the American Diabetes Association. In the United States, about 1 in 4 people over the age of 60 have diabetes.

Once you’ve been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, your doctor can help you choose the best treatment for you. Many people with type 2 diabetes can control their blood glucose levels with diet and exercise alone. Others need diabetes medicines or insulin injections. Over time, some people may need both lifestyle changes and medication.

Tips for managing type 2 diabetes:

  • Track your glucose levels.Very high glucose levels or very low glucose levels (called hypoglycemia) can cause serious health risks. Your doctor can show you how to check your glucose levels at home.
  • Make healthy food choices.Your doctor can refer you to a dietitian to help you learn how different foods affect glucose levels. Focus on establishing and maintaining a healthy weight, and developing balanced, nutritious meal plans that will stabilize glucose levels.
  • Get regular exercise.Daily exercise can help improve glucose levels in older people with diabetes. Ask your doctor to help you plan an exercise program that’s right for you.
  • Take your diabetes medicines as prescribed.You might feel tempted to stop taking your medications if you feel well. But uncontrolled diabetes damages essential systems in your body, and can lead to higher risk for serious complications such as heart disease and stroke, kidney disease, vision problems, nerve damage, and neurological disorders such as dementia.