Diabetes is one of the most common health problems impacting older adults, and one of the most serious. For seniors, diabetes often requires close attention and thoughtful treatment from medical professionals, and lots of hands-on assistance from family caregivers and professional senior companions.
Diabetes and the Elderly
In its 2017 National Diabetes Statistics Report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that about 30 million adults had some form of diabetes. The CDC also projected that roughly 25% of adults 65 or older have diabetes – that amounts to about 12 million people. In a recent post, the Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine estimated that 40% of people in the US have diabetes or another form of glucose resistance by age 70. The Journal also notes that the prevalence of diabetes has been increasing among the elderly, and has nearly doubled in the last 25 years.
So, what is diabetes? In short, diabetes is a disease that impacts the body’s ability to produce or effectively use insulin, an important hormone that helps deliver glucose, or sugar, to our cells. As a result of these insulin imbalances, a person with diabetes may have an abnormal metabolism, and experience elevated levels of glucose in their bloodstream.
There are two primary types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body is incapable of making its own insulin. This condition occurs most often in children and young adults. More common for older adults is Type 2 diabetes, which occurs when the body has difficulty producing or generating insulin. Type 2 can often be tied to lifestyle factors such as inactivity,
Over time, the effects of diabetes can impact a person’s health and well-being in many different ways. Adults with diabetes are at higher risk for developing a number of serious health conditions, including:
- heart disease
- kidney disease
- vision problems
- foot damage and pain in the extremities
- Alzheimer’s disease
- nerve damage and pain
Diabetes can present a number of different symptoms and effects. Often, the disease goes undiagnosed in seniors for some time, because the symptoms – such as fatigue, excess urination, blurry vision, weight loss, appetite changes, and dehydration – are similar to other conditions that often go along with aging. If your senior loved one is experiencing any of those symptoms, however, be sure to consult with a doctor. A medical professional can order tests to help determine if your loved one is experiencing low insulin or high blood sugar levels.
Helping Seniors Manage Diabetes: What Family Caregivers Can Do
Diabetes can be challenging for older adults, but it can be managed with the right level of support and care.
After their diagnosis, your senior loved one will likely work with a variety of doctors, specialists, and health experts to create a course of action for treatment, which may include taking certain medications, creating a healthy diet, or starting an exercise regimen.
For family caregivers and senior companions, the best way to help an older adult live an active and healthy lifestyle with diabetes is to help them stick to their goals. Here are a few ideas to keep in mind:
Help Your Senior Loved One Stay Active
Physical activity can help older adults manage their glucose levels. Your loved one’s healthcare team may suggest certain exercises or activities based on their level of comfort and ability. Broadly speaking, many different forms of light aerobic exercise can help seniors manage their glucose level, including walking, swimming, or biking. As a rule of thumb, the American Diabetes Association has recommended getting 30 minutes of moderate physical activity per day, at least five days per week. Based on your loved one’s overall health, you may also want to talk with a doctor about exercises for weight loss and strength building, such as resistance training.
Help Your Loved One Prepare and Eat Healthy Meals
As part of their treatment plan, your loved one may work with a doctor or nutritionist to develop a healthy eating strategy, based on their dietary needs. Broadly speaking, for diabetics, eating a healthy diet will typically mean eating in moderation, and sticking to regular, predictable mealtimes. A nutritionist or physician can recommend food groups and specific items to focus on, such as fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and heart-healthy nuts and fish. A nutritionist may also recommend foods to avoid, such as processed foods high in saturated and trans fats, sodium, and cholesterol.
Remind the Senior to Keep Up Their Testing and Medication Schedule
Helping a senior loved one live with diabetes is often going to mean helping them to monitor their status, and keep up with their prescribed medicines and treatments. A doctor can help your loved one set a schedule for when, and how often, to track their blood glucose levels. It’s also important for caregivers to know the symptoms of low blood glucose, including confusion, dizziness, and sweating, so you can help your loved ones in an emergency situation. It’s also crucial to help your loved one stay on track with their diabetes medications, which may include pills or regular injections. It may help to set an alarm to help your senior remember to take their medicine, or use an automated pill dispenser for easily figuring out dosages.
Encourage Your Loved One to Get Regular Health Check-Ups
Diabetes is closely connected to a variety of other health concerns. As a family caregiver, it’s important to make sure your loved one is staying on top of their doctor’s appointments and treatment plans. For older adults with diabetes, it’s important to regularly consult with healthcare providers to:
- Check their blood pressure and cholesterol levels
- Stay on top of flu and pneumonia vaccinations
- Check up on their quality of hearing and eyesight
- Examine their feet for signs of damage
- Maintain their oral health by regularly seeing a dentist
How Companions for Seniors Can Help
When an older adult is dealing with diabetes or another chronic health condition, it’s important to get them the support and assistance that can empower them to live a full, complete, and independent life.
At Companions for Seniors, our mission is to help seniors maintain a higher quality of life by assisting them in leading an active and enriched lifestyle in the comfort and safety of home. Our aim is to help seniors live each day to the fullest by connecting them with their community and nurturing meaningful relationships.
To do this, we take care to make things easier for seniors and family caregivers, at every step of the way. We offer a wide variety of full- and part-time services, including:
- Providing assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs)
- Helping with bathing, grooming, using the restroom, and other tasks
- Offering driving services for doctor’s appointments, errands, and social events
- Assisting with laundry, cooking, cleaning, and other important household chores
- Providing medication and exercise reminders
- Offering friendly companionship and social connection
We can provide a free in-home assessment for your loved one, and help develop a unique and personalized care plan specifically suited to their needs. As the senior’s needs develop, so will our plan of care. In most cases we can be up and running in just a few days, sparing you from the laborious application process and paperwork attached to assisted living facilities.
Curious about what sets Companions for Seniors apart? Want to talk over any aspect of home care for seniors living with diabetes? We’d love to keep the conversation going and help point you in the right direction. Get in touch online or give us a call at 866-910-9020 today to get started.