Jane Sandwood, one of our regular contributors, tackles the issue of diabetes diagnosis in the elderly.
In a recent study of South Africans over the age of 50, 9% reported having diabetes and this percentage rose with age. With the proportion of elderly people over 60 growing fast in South Africa, having reached 4.6 million in 2017, this means that a chronic disease like Type 2 diabetes is on the rise too. As an older person, dealing with a new diagnosis can be challenging and as well as changes in diet and lifestyle, support from family and friends can be very helpful in managing the disease.
Changing habits to be diabetes-friendly
In a country where the demands of other health challenges take precedent, the needs of older people can be overlooked. Even with the best health care, a diagnosis of diabetes can be difficult for older patients. They need to change deep-rooted habits when they may already be facing symptoms and illnesses associated with the condition.
Nearly a third of people with diabetes have diabetic retinopathy which causes gradual deterioration to sight, and yet with early and regular treatment, the risk of blindness is reduced by 90%. This highlights how, by attending routine regular check-ups and creating new healthy habits, many of the symptoms of diabetes can be controlled.
Managing sugar levels
Older people are particularly vulnerable to hyperglycemia caused by very high blood sugar levels. Complications from a hyperglycemic crisis are dangerous. This is a very real risk in the elderly who may have trouble getting used to a new diagnosis and forget to follow health and diet guidelines strictly. Daily reminders about diet, keeping hydrated, careful monitoring of blood sugar levels and, in case of collapse, a system to ensure treatment is provided promptly can all help the patient feel more in control and less vulnerable.
Coping with stress – and diabetes
Adjusting to a new regime can be very demanding but it’s important to learn to relax (easier said than done!) Stress affects metabolic control and can lead to increased HbA1c, a term for glucose in the blood. HbA1c levels are almost double in diabetics experiencing extreme stress, increasing the risk of long-term complications. Tempting as it might be, it’s crucial not to rely on habits like smoking to relieve stress. One of the many consequences of smoking is hardening of the arteries, leading to an increase in cardiovascular complications. In a recent study of adult South Africans with diabetes, 73% were dealing with other cardiovascular illnesses such as angina or hypertension. In order to alleviate stress and improve circulation, an increase in exercise can be very helpful
A diagnosis of diabetes in later life can be a lot to cope with. However, small changes in lifestyle and regular check-ups and treatment can make a big difference.