Diabetes and older people

Older people more at risk of developing diabetes in later life

Older people who develop diabetes may go untreated due to other age-related ailments. Read this guide if you think a relative has developed the condition.

There are currently close to three million people in the UK already diagnosed with the condition and it is likely that up to 500,000 people also have the condition without knowing it. These figures are likely to rise rapidly due to obesity and other lifestyle factors affecting mainly older people.

What is diabetes?

There are two main types of diabetes: Type 1 diabetes and Type 2 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes develops if the body is unable to produce any insulin. This type of diabetes usually appears before the age of 40.It is likely to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented.

Type 2 diabetes develops when the body can still make some insulin, but not enough, or when the insulin that is produced does not work properly (known as insulin resistance). 

This type of diabetes usually appears in people over the age of 40, though in people from South Asian and of African heritage it often appears after the age of 25.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common of the two main types and accounts for between 85 - 95 per cent of all people with diabetes.

How is diabetes treated?

Type 1 diabetes is treated by insulin injections and a healthy diet, and regular physical activity is recommended.

Type 2 diabetes is treated with lifestyle changes such as a healthier diet, weight loss (if appropriate) and increased exercise.

Type 2 diabetes is progressive so if the condition cannot be controlled through lifestyle changes, medication and/or insulin may also be required to achieve normal blood glucose levels.

The main aim of treatment of both types of diabetes is to achieve blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol levels as near to normal as possible.

This, together with a healthy lifestyle, will help to improve wellbeing and protect against long-term damage to the eyes, kidneys, nerves, heart and major arteries.

Risk factors for developing Type 2 diabetes

Being overweight increases your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Your waist size can show if you are at an increased risk of developing diabetes.

You have an increased risk of developing diabetes if your waist is 31.5 inches or over for women; 35 inches or over for South Asian men and 37 inches or over for white and black men.

There is also a genetic factor to Type 2 diabetes. Having a close family member with Type 2 diabetes increases your risk of developing the condition.

Cut down the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes

To reduce your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, have a healthy balanced diet you should reduce salt, sugar and fat and increase the fruit and vegetables you eat.

Lead an active lifestyle and lose weight if necessary.

The signs and symptoms of diabetes are:

  • Passing urine more frequently – especially at night;
  • Increased thirst;
  • Tiredness;
  • Unintentional weight loss;
  • Blurred vision;
  • Genital itching or regular episodes of thrush;
  • Slow healing of wounds.

In Type 2 diabetes these signs and symptoms may not always obvious.

Taking early action is important to prevent long term complications, so if any of the risk factors or symptoms apply to you, ask your GP for a diabetes test.

What are the complications of diabetes?

Diabetes is a serious condition that can lead to heart disease and strokes, kidney problems, blindness and amputation.

Good blood glucose control is crucial to avoid or delay developing the above complications.

Problems for the older person

The ageing process itself can cause problems which could increase the risk of developing diabetes or even mask diabetes which is present.

Eating properly may be difficult for someone who is living alone or increasingly frail. Ready meals can be high in salt and fat.

Incontinence is embarrassing and upsetting. Urine infections can cause incontinence, and the infection may be due to undiagnosed diabetes giving an ideal breeding ground for bacteria.

Confusion is often put down to dementia. But it might be due to low blood sugar levels in someone with diabetes.

Older people often have less warning signs of hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) which include sweating, palpitations, shakiness, loss of concentration and anxiety. These signs need recognising and treating with a quick acting carbohydrate such as glucose sweets or a sugary drink.

Diabetes UK

Anyone wanting more information on diabetes or anyone needing support can ring the Diabetes UK Careline on 0845 123 2399 or visit the Diabetes UK.

Tags: Dementia Diabetes type 1 diabetes type 2 diabetes

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