Diabetes Health Tips for Seniors
The risk of developing diabetes increases with age — nearly 11 million seniors in the United States have the condition. That’s more than a fourth of all people in this age group. In comparison, just more than 8 percent of all Americans have diabetes. Equally important, living with diabetes means facing an increased risk of complications as you grow older — complications that can affect your heart, vision, hearing, and more. However, there are steps you can take to reduce these risks and protect your health in the years ahead
Monitor Your Blood Sugar Daily
When living with diabetes, you can reduce serious health risks, or at least delay diabetes complications, with good blood sugar management. Monitoring your blood sugar daily and keeping a chart will provide both you and your doctor valuable information on how well your current treatment plan is working, says Alison Massey, MS, RD, LDN, a dietitian and diabetes educator at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. If your blood sugar isn’t under tight control, or has become more difficult to control as you’ve gotten older, your doctor can use your records like a blueprint to make needed changes to your treatment regimen, Massey says.
Take Your Medications as Prescribed
Keeping track of medications can be a difficult task, especially if you’re treating more than one health issue. But for best health, this has to be a priority if you’re living with diabetes. Reminders on your watch or cell phone can help keep you on schedule. Having an ongoing dialogue with your doctor about medications, side effects, and concerns you may have is just as important. Maintain a detailed list of everything you’re taking, including non-prescription drugs, herbal therapies, and vitamins and supplements to help manage your dosing schedule and determine the source of any new side effects. Some medications shouldn’t be taken together, so if you have multiple doctors prescribing medications, use one pharmacy to fill them so your pharmacist can spot any potential problems in advance.
Eat a Diabetes-Friendly Diet
“Food, especially carbohydrate foods, have a direct impact on blood sugar levels,” Massey says. “It’s important to learn about portion control and create well-balanced meals that incorporate a lot of non-starchy vegetables.” Work with your doctor or dietitian to come up with a personalized meal plan that will meet your nutrition needs. Limit foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol because they can lead to cardiovascular disease, another common diabetes complication. The risk for death from heart disease or stroke is two to four times higher for people with diabetes than it is for the general population.
Stay Physically Active
Although exercise is good for everyone, it’s even more important when you’re living with diabetes. “Physical activity plays a role in glucose (sugar) utilization and helps to lowerblood sugar levels,” Massey explains. Choose from walking, bicycling, swimming, strength training, and any other activity that gets you moving. Just check in with your doctor before starting a new physical activity in case there are specific guidelines to follow based on your medical history. Always warm up, stretch out, and cool down to protect yourself against injury from exercising.
Keep Up On Routine Checkups
Finding a doctor who’s right for you and then scheduling and keeping all appointments with him or her is a good strategy for staying healthy with diabetes. Should you develop certain diabetes complications, like heart disease, your doctor may refer you to other specialists, such as a cardiologist. If needed, your diabetes care could be expanded to include a diabetes educator, a dietitian or nutritionist, an ophthalmologist (for eye health), a podiatrist (for foot care), and your dentist. Regular checkups give your doctor the chance to diagnose and treat any diabetes health issues before they become serious.
Take Care of Your Vision
Over time, diabetes puts you at higher risk for developing eye conditions, starting with retinopathy, or damage to the retina, Massey explains. Keeping your blood sugar well-managed can reduce the risk and severity of retinopathy. Living with diabetes also makes you more likely to develop eye conditions that are already more common in seniors, like glaucoma and cataracts. Cataracts may come on more rapidly and at a younger age. With all eye-related diabetes complications, early detection and treatment are key. Massey suggests that people with diabetes see an ophthalmologist for an eye exam at least once a year, or more frequently if advised.
Check Your Hearing
A study co-piloted by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders found that over time, high blood sugar levels may damage nerves and blood vessels in the inner ear, making hearing loss twice as likely for people with diabetes than for those without the disease. Hearing loss happens gradually, so symptoms of this diabetes complication may be hard for you to notice, especially since hearing loss in general increases with age. Talk to your doctor about an annual hearing test, especially as you get older. Good blood sugar management may help prevent or delay hearing loss.
Understand Your Medical Coverage
Health care is expensive, especially when you’re living with diabetes. Medicare coverage for people age 65 and older will vary depending on the type of plan you choose. Know what’s covered for you and what isn’t so you don’t face unexpected medical bills. If you incur bills that aren’t fully covered by insurance, contact the medical facility directly to see if it has a financial adviser who can offer payment options. Most medical facilities offer financial assistance, called “free care” or “compassionate care,” when patients are unable to afford their bills. You also can keep medical costs lower by:
- Closely following your diabetes treatment plan to reduce the risk of diabetes complications
- Asking your doctor to prescribe generic medications when available
- Checking with a clinic about low-cost or free blood sugar test strips
- Contacting pharmaceutical companies about prescription assistance programs that make medications available to people who don’t have insurance or whose insurance doesn’t cover the full cost. source