As you might already be aware, Type 2 diabetes is a condition that can affect people of all ages. But did you know it becomes more prevalent and trickier to manage as we age?
According to the American Diabetes Association, nearly 27% of Americans over 65 have diabetes, and an additional 50% have prediabetes (higher than normal glucose levels). So, if your aging parent or loved one doesn’t have diabetes now, they could still be at risk for developing it. Especially since both conditions are underdiagnosed.
Seniors in particular need to be vigilant about managing their diabetes. As we age, the risk of complications increases, creating a whole new set of health issues to deal with on top of the condition itself. But older adults face some challenges in managing the condition that it’s important to be aware of. In this article, we will outline what those challenges are as well as some things you can do as the family caregiver. And if your parent or loved one has been diagnosed with prediabetes, hopefully this info will help inspire some positive changes to keep the disease from progressing further.
Why it gets tougher as you age
In general, older people have been exposed to sugar longer than the younger generations, so their chances of developing abnormally high blood glucose level (and eventually type 2 diabetes) is greater. But there are three additional challenges that seniors face that make preventing and managing the condition more difficult:
Perhaps the simplest way to prevent and manage Type 2 diabetes is making adjustments to lifestyle, but for many seniors, it’s not an easy transition. Eating well and exercising can have a big impact on how someone with diabetes feels from day to day, but as we age and get more “stuck in our ways,” it becomes less and less of a priority. Losing even a few pounds can make a difference. But as the metabolism slows with aging, results are slower as well, which can make it hard to stick with a program.
Getting enough quality sleep is another lifestyle factor that impacts those with diabetes. Seniors can often have issues with sleep, so it takes some concentrated effort to make those adjustments.
A big component of diabetes management is taking medications properly, monitoring your blood sugar, and making it to doctor’s appointments. As we age, it can become more difficult to manage complicated routines in addition to the activities of our daily life. And some seniors can be resistant to making all the changes (lifestyle, medications, etc.) required simply because they have lived their life the same way for so long.
Transportation can also play a role in compliance. Older adults may not drive on their own and can have a hard time securing rides to and from doctor’s appointments and to get the needed supplies and medications.
Costs & Income:
According to a study by the American Diabetes Association, approximately $237 billion was spent on direct health care expenditures related to diabetes in 2017. And even though adults over the age of 65 make up just 15% of the population, they accounted for 62% of the diabetes costs. Older adults with diabetes had, on average, more than double the costs for prescriptions, hospital inpatient care, and office visits than younger adults. Some of this has to do with Medicare & Medicaid (which many older adults utilize) versus private health insurance.
On top of these increased costs, seniors are often on fixed incomes and have no way of bringing in more. The National Council on Aging reports that 1 in 3 seniors are considered economically insecure. And according to data from 2016, 61% of households headed by someone over 65 had debt – the median amount of which was $31,050.
This combination of a reduced income and higher out-of-pocket costs can make it much harder for older adults to keep up with the costs of preventing and/or managing diabetes.
What you can do as a family caregiver
Despite these challenges, it’s still very possible for an older adult with diabetes to have a great quality of life. The key is getting into routines and habits and sticking to them. Being compliant with the treatment plan set up by the doctor and managing lifestyle factors can actually help mitigate some of the costs. Here’s what you can do as a family caregiver to help your aging parent with their diabetes:
- Encourage them to make healthy food choices. If possible, work with them on a meal plan and shopping list. If they’re unable to shop for themselves, consider using a grocery delivery service if you can’t do the shopping yourself.
- Set up a reminder system for checking glucose, taking medications, and doctor’s appointments. If you’re unable to take them to get these supplies and they don’t drive, consider hiring a car service or hiring a caregiver to help. Be sure to follow up regularly to make sure they’re complying.
- Encourage some form of exercise or activity. Walking and other types of daily exercise can help improve glucose levels. Be sure to consult the doctor before starting any program. If possible, walk or exercise with them. It always helps to have a partner with an exercise program and it’s good for your health, too!
If your aging parent is having trouble managing their diabetes and you aren’t able to help them as much as they need, bringing in a part-time professional caregiver is a great option. A non-medical caregiver can help with almost all of the tasks associated with diabetes (they’re not able to directly administer medication but can provide reminders!) and more.
Here at Sequoia Senior Solutions, we train caregivers to help clients who have diabetes through our Diabetes Specialty Program. They learn to address the specific needs of diabetes patients like healthy eating, exercise, medication reminders, and transportation. They also provide companionship and socialization which helps with the mental and emotional health components. As a side benefit, they help relieve your stress as a family caregiver and allow you to get back to the parent-child relationship as it was intended.
- How Does Aging Affect Sleep? – Sleep Foundation
- Seniors and Diabetes: The Complete Guide – Aging.com
- Diabetes in Older People- National Institute on Aging
- Lowering Out-of-Pocket Costs for Older Adults: A Guide – The American Journal of Managed Care
- Get the Facts on Economic Security for Seniors – National Council on Aging
- Statistics on Diabetes – American Diabetes Association