For seniors with diabetes, living well can be a continuous struggle.
It is estimated that over 25 percent of US seniors have diabetes, with another 50 percent show pre-diabetic symptoms. That is a completely staggering figure— 3 of every 4 Americans over the age of 65 are directly in harm's way.
And diabetes is a killer.
The disease was the 7th leading cause of death among all Americans in 2010, but even that may be an understatement. Only 35 to 40 percent of known diabetics who died in 2010 had diabetes listed as a primary or contributing factor on their death certificate.
But there's hope for seniors who have diabetes.
The thing is, diabetes doesn't have to be deadly. It is a manageable condition that is well understood by medical science. Simple, preventative measures and steps that seniors can take at home can stave off its long-term damaging effects, or even eradicate pre-diabetic symptoms entirely).
Here are three ways that seniors living with diabetes can improve their quality of life:
1.) Check your finger stick blood sugar (FSBS) every day without fail.
The number one way that diabetics get into trouble is noncompliance with their low-sugar diet, glucose checks and medication regimen.
Checking your finger stick blood sugar isn't pleasant— everyone understands that. And no one blames you for being averse to it.But if you think about the long-term pain from which you can save yourself and your loved ones— life-threatening diabetic ketoacidotic crises, ICU admissions, chronic infections, limb amputations and early demise— a second or two of pain every day when you stick your finger to check your blood glucose level is a very small price to pay.
2.) Eat right and get active.
Pre-diabetic symptoms can often be reduced, or even be resolved entirely, just by losing a moderate amount of weight and exercising regularly. And full diabetics can sometimes come off daily insulin injections and reduce their medication dependence by eating better and exercising.
Instead of eating processed foods and restaurant take-out, try cooking more fresh fruit and veggie-based dishes for yourself at home. Avoid adding sugar or salt just for the sake of taste— use herbs, spices and low-glucose sweeteners like agave and stevia instead.
Exercise a moderate amount every day. Take walks, swim at your local gym or YMCA, or go for bike rides. When the weather gets cold, try light to moderate weight training, take a water aerobics class or sign up for ballroom dancing. The idea is to get moving. Make sure you choose an activity that you enjoy and can stick with.
3.) Keep a daily diet and blood glucose log and visit your doctor for regular checks.
If you are a diabetic who either does not have an established primary care doctor or who doesn’t go for regular checkups, you're actively harming your health.
Without careful, attentive management of your diabetes regimen by a physician, you run a serious risk of decompensating and experiencing critical illness. Diabetics are at increased risk of heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, chronic wound infections, neurological damage and other debilitating conditions.
Unfortunately, a 2010 study by the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project found that preventable hospital admissions related to diabetes increased 12 percent between 2005 and 2010. In 2010 alone, preventable diabetes admissions cost hospitals (and by extension US taxpayers, when indigent care, Medicare and Medicaid payments are considered) over $6.3 billion.
When your diabetes is well-controlled, you should be having a check-up, including an A1C test, fasting blood glucose draw, blood pressure check, foot check and review of your care plan at least every 6 months. If your diabetes is not well-controlled, you should be having these checks at least monthly, until it is well-controlled.
To help your doctor better manage your diabetes regimen, keep a diligent record of your food intake, morning and after-meal FSBS readings, insulin and medication doses and exercise. By doing so, you can give your doctor the information he or she needs to keep you safe.
If you haven't been serious about management of your diabetes to date, now's the time to start.
Schedule an appointment with your primary care doctor to sit down and hash out a cohesive care plan. And if you currently have no primary care doctor, find one— quickly. Start adhering to a low-sugar diet, check your glucose regularly, exercise and keep a diabetes management log. Take your insulin as directed and make sure you are having your prescriptions refilled in advance of needing them
Living well with diabetes is possible, but it takes effort. Do your part to reduce the diabetes epidemic among US seniors. Make a commitment to get serious about managing your diabetes symptoms today.