Diabetes After 60
Improvements in healthcare, medications, and diet have helped the Golden Years live up to their name. If you are over 60 and have diabetes, managing your blood sugar can keep you healthy, happy, and productive.
Over time, diabetes can affect the heart, kidneys, eyes, and nerves. Additionally, seniors face osteoporosis, depression, and dementia. Diabetes affects these too. And with age, the threat of low blood sugar episodes grows. However, you can lower your risk of age-related health issues:
- Eat right.
- Control your weight.
- Exercise often.
- Get enough sleep.
- Routinely check your blood sugar levels.
- Take your medications.
Seniors with diabetes should plan meals with reduced calories and balanced carbohydrates. As you age, foods you enjoy may also become harder to digest. Read the food nutrition labels. Try to eat foods that are low in fat, salt, and sugar, and high in fiber.
Aim for a diet made up of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and protein. Protein is found in low- or non-fat dairy products, legumes (beans, peas, and lentils), skinless poultry, fish, lean meats, and tofu. Talk to your doctor or a dietitian to find meal plans that are right for you.
A healthy diet is not all you need. Exercise also helps keep your weight and blood pressure in check. Even moderate exercise can condition and strengthen your heart, lungs, muscles, and bones. It also promotes flexibility and balance. These usually decline with age.
Your exercise program should include aerobic exercise (for the heart and circulatory system) and strength training (for muscles and bones). Even if you are not flexible, there are still exercises you can do. Walking is a great aerobic exercise. It is easy to do and requires only supportive shoes and comfy clothing. Other aerobic exercises include:
- raking leaves,
- mowing the lawn,
- even playing with grandchildren!
Osteoporosis affects many seniors, particularly women. Strength training helps fight this condition by keeping bones strong. Some fitness experts recommend elastic resistance bands. Bands are cheaper and can be used at home or when traveling. Most bands come with easy exercises that build different muscle groups a little at a time.
It is never too late to start exercising. Talk to your doctor first. Start out slowly to build up your stamina. Set a goal of getting at least 30 minutes of exercise five days a week. It is okay to split the time into 10-minute spurts. Alternate days when you do aerobic exercise and strength training.
Take Your Meds
Everyone tends to get a little…um, what is the word...forgetful as we age. Check your blood glucose levels daily. It is vital to remember to take medications too. Seniors can stay on top of their medication routines with the following tips:
- Keep an updated list of your medicines.
- Use one pharmacy to fill all your prescriptions, if possible.
- Use an easy-to-open pill organizer.
- Use a timer, alarm clock, or cell phone alarm to remind you when to take medicines.
Hit the Road
Many seniors enjoy travel. Diabetes does not have to slow you down if you are prepared. Before your trip, check with your doctor about being immunized. Ask for a prescription and letter explaining your diabetes and medications. If you will be changing time zones, plan to adjust your meal and medication times. Pack twice as much medication and supplies as you normally need. Air travelers should keep insulin, syringes, medications, snacks, and sweets in carry-on bags. Try not to miss meals and stick to your regular diet.
Despite your best efforts, diabetes can lead to other medical complications as you get older. Watch for symptoms of heart disease, high blood pressure, eye problems, kidney disease, and nerve damage. See your doctor often and report issues as they come up. Finally, follow the ABCs of diabetes – monitor your A1C, blood pressure, and cholesterol.
1-American Diabetes Association. Living Healthy with Diabetes Guide. www.diabetes.org/assets/pdfs/living-healthy-with-diabetes-guide.pdf. (Accessed 6/26/11).
2-American Diabetes Association. Seniors. http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/seniors/?utm_source=WWW&utm_medium=DropDownLWD&utm_content=Seniors&utm_campaign=CON (Accessed 6/26/11).
3-Chau, Diane and Steven V. Edelman. 2001. Clinical Management of Diabetes in the Elderly. Clinical Diabetes 19, no 4, http://clinical.diabetesjournals.org/content/19/4/172.full (Accessed 6/26/11)
4-National Diabetes Education Program. 4 Steps to Control Your Diabetes. For Life. http://ndep.nih.gov/publications/PublicationDetail.aspx?PubId=4&redirect=true - page2 (Accessed 6/26/11).
5-National Diabetes Education Program. Have Diabetes. Will Travel. http://ndep.nih.gov/media/diabetes_travel_article.pdf. (Accessed 6/26/11).
6-National Institute on Aging. Diabetes in Older People—A Disease You Can Manage. http://www.nia.nih.gov/HealthInformation/Publications/diabetes.htm (Accessed 6/26/11).
Reviewed by Jason C. Baker, MD
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I have a friend, M, who has diabetes and never, ever tests her bloodsugar before she gets behind the wheel. This has always worried me about her. On Wednesday, she had a bad accident after passing out behind the wheel. She hit another car head on. I thank the universe that no one was killed, but she and the driver of the other vehicle were both badly injured. She's got a long healing road ahead of her, as does the woman she hit. I was talking about the...