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How Seniors Can Manage Diabetes for a Longer, Healthier Life

Did you know that approximately 34.2 million people have diabetes? That’s 10.5% of the U.S. population and within that group, 26.8% are 65 years or older.

That said, there are two kinds of diabetes, type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is the most common, and usually affects middle-aged or older adults. For this reason, all information in this article will be in reference to type 2 diabetes.

If you are one of the millions of seniors diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, there is good news. By making appropriate lifestyle adjustments and collaborating with healthcare professionals, you can learn to manage diabetes and still enjoy life to the fullest.

Read on for more information about the causes of diabetes and how you can manage it successfully.

What Causes Diabetes in Older Adults?

Diabetes is a disease in which the body does not produce enough, or does not properly use, insulin, a hormone that converts glucose (sugar) into energy. This often results in too much glucose in the blood, which can cause various health problems.

According to Mayo Clinic, some of the symptoms of type 2 diabetes include:

  • Increased thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Blurred vision
  • Slow-healing sores
  • Frequent infections

Diabetes is typically caused by insulin resistance ― when cells don’t respond to insulin as they should ― and an inability of the pancreas to produce insulin. There are several risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes, particularly for older adults. If you are overweight, physically inactive, 45 years of age or older, or have a close relative with type 2 diabetes, you may be at increased risk.

Why is Managing Diabetes Important for Health?

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, managing it effectively is important. Left untreated, diabetes can cause serious health problems that might include:

  • Heart disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Stroke
  • Nerve damage
  • Eye problems
  • Cancer
  • Alzheimer’s disease

Fortunately, many people with type 2 diabetes have been successful in controlling it through simple lifestyle changes, as well as working with their healthcare team. While it’s not always easy, it’s certainly worth it in order to live a longer, healthier life.

What are the Best Ways to Manage Diabetes?

Work Collaboratively with Your Health Care Providers

Ultimately, your health care providers will provide you with advice, feedback, strategies, and any medications or treatments needed to manage your diabetes. You will likely see more than one physician about your diabetes. In fact, your health care team could include:

  • Primary care provider
  • Endocrinologist
  • Fitness professional
  • Pharmacist
  • Registered dietician
  • Mental health professional
  • Optometrist
  • Podiatrist
  • Dentist

As you visit multiple health care providers or offices, be sure to keep each updated and informed about any new symptoms or issues you may be having. Ask plenty of questions and make sure to have contact information handy if you need to reach out in between appointments.

Follow a Healthy Eating Plan

While there are established diets you can follow, such as the Mediterranean diet, a simple healthy eating plan can be equally beneficial. The American Diabetes Association recommends the Diabetes Plate Method as an easy option to create healthy meals to manage your blood sugar.

The Diabetes Plate Method consists of four parts:

  1. Nonstarchy vegetables. Fill half of your plate with nonstarchy vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, carrots, cucumber, green beans, peppers, salad greens, tomatoes, etc.
  2. Lean protein foods. Fill one-quarter of your plate with high-protein foods like chicken, fish, lean beef, soy products, lean pork, or cheese.
  3. Carbohydrate foods. Fill one-quarter of your plate with foods high in carbohydrates. These include grains, starchy vegetables, beans, fruit, yogurt, and milk.
  4. Water or low-calorie drink. Water is preferable here, but you can also choose low-calorie drinks like unsweetened tea, coffee (unsweetened), or sparkling water.

Stay Physically Active

Regular physical activity is one of the best ways you can keep your blood sugar in check and maintain a healthy weight. As an added bonus, exercise can also improve your mood, control your blood pressure, and help you sleep better, among other benefits.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise. You can split this up over the week however you like ― whether it’s 20 to 25 minutes every day or 50 minutes three days a week.

There are lots of options for how to stay active, including low-impact exercises. Here are some examples:

  • Walking at a brisk pace
  • Swimming
  • Bicycling
  • Balance exercises
  • Strength training

If you’re not used to regular exercise, start small by establishing a routine, such as walking 15 minutes every day. Over time, you can work your way up to longer periods of time or try out new ways to stay active.

Check Your Blood Sugar (If Needed)

When you have type 2 diabetes, you want to keep your blood sugar within a certain range, which can vary slightly from person to person. Regularly monitoring and logging your blood sugar with a blood glucose meter is the best way to keep it within the appropriate range.

While not everyone with diabetes may need to check their blood sugar regularly, it is an especially helpful tool for those who take insulin or have difficulty controlling their blood sugar levels. Ultimately, your health care provider will guide you on how and when to check your blood sugar and what your target range is.

Record the information in a blood glucose log, noting what the reading is, the time and date you tested, and other relevant information that may have affected the reading. These could include what food you ate that day, if you were experiencing high levels of stress, or if you were not physically active that day.

Reduce Stress

While some stress is unavoidable, it’s important to keep the stress level in your life under control, as excessive stress can make managing diabetes much more difficult.

There are several methods you can use to manage your stress; the most basic ones go hand in hand with living a healthy lifestyle. Make sure you are sleeping enough each night, exercising regularly, and eating balanced meals. In addition, you can take advantage of stress-relieving activities such as:

  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Deep breathing
  • Listening to music
  • Reading

If you’re still having trouble keeping your stress level down, seeking assistance through counseling or therapy is an effective option. A trained professional can help provide you with strategies to better manage stress and take control.

More Health and Wellness Resources on The Bristal Blog

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