Living with Diabetes
Managing your diabetes later in life is just as important as when you were younger. In fact there are huge advantages to managing your diabetes as you age, the biggest being mobility and ability to do everyday tasks.
Complications of Diabetes
Elderly people are often more frail and therefore more likely to develop the complications of diabetes, and have a harder time managing them. Exercise and dietary changes are also more difficult when we are older and can contribute to worsening complications. All diabetes complications can occur in elderly people, however cognitive complications such as a decrease in learning ability, understanding, and remembering are more common. Elderly people are also more likely to experience low blood sugars, also known as hypoglycemia.
Hypoglycemia is a condition when your blood sugar levels drop below 4.0 mmol/L. In the elderly hypoglycemia is more common due to a decrease in the release of glucagon (a hormone responsible for increasing blood sugar levels). Elderly people are also often unaware of the symptoms of hypoglycemia. Reduced mental activity may cause individuals to be unable to recognize the symptoms of hypoglycemia, and physical impairment may prevent individuals from being able to properly treat their low blood sugar. Certain medications such as beta-blockers can mask the symptoms of hypoglycemia. If you are taking a beta-blocker it is important to monitor your blood sugar levels. Episodes of severe hypoglycemia may increase your risk for dementia.
You and your healthcare team may set your blood sugar targets higher to avoid hypoglycemia.
The medications you take for diabetes management may change, as you get older. A group of medications called sulphonylureas (Diamicron, DiaBeta, Amaryl) have an extremely high risk of causing hypoglycemia in older adults. If you are on insulin therapy, your regimen might change to help you avoid hypoglycemia.
If you have questions or concerns about your current medications you can speak with your doctor or pharmacist.
As we age what we choose to eat often changes too. This change can impact your diabetes management. When we get older often times we eat less protein which is very important for managing blood sugar levels and maintaining muscle mass. Cooking for one can be a challenge, and may cause some people to skip meals. Skipping meals increases the risk of experiencing a low blood sugar. Using meal replacements such as Glucerna can help avoid low blood sugars when you don’t feel like eating.
A registered dietitian can help you with continuing to eat a healthy diet.