Type 2 diabetes is a growing problem among all Americans, but especially so among the senior population. Nearly 27% of Americans over 65 have diabetes, and an additional 50% have prediabetes. Many of these cases are undiagnosed, so it’s likely that your parent is either dealing with a diabetes or prediabetes diagnosis or isn’t aware that they have it.
A type 2 diabetes diagnosis is life-changing in many ways. And learning that your parent has prediabetes and is just one step away from the disease can be scary. But gaining a better understanding of what prediabetes is and the things you and your parent can do about it will go a long way toward alleviating some of the anxiety you may be feeling.
In this article, we’ll outline what you need to know about the condition, why it’s important to act, and what can be done to prevent the progression to type 2 diabetes.
What you need to know about prediabetes
First, it’s important to know what exactly prediabetes is. Aging.com explains it well:
“Getting diagnosed with prediabetes means that, while your blood sugar is high, it’s not consistently high enough to be considered to have type 2 diabetes. However, it does mean that you should immediately take action to reverse it. When you have prediabetes, your body is either slowly starting to reject insulin as a way of converting sugar to energy or it soon will.”
There are risk factors for getting prediabetes and having it turn into type 2 diabetes – some of which are not modifiable, and some of which can be changed. Genetics, family history, and age are the main factors that can’t be controlled. But health habits and lifestyle can be altered to change the course of the condition.
There are two pieces of good news when it comes to prediabetes: it can be reversed, and less than 10% of cases turn into type 2 diabetes. But even though the prevalence is low, diabetes is NOT something you want your parent to have – both from an overall health perspective and the changes to everyday life like costs and insulin management.
Why it’s important to act
Even though only 1 in 10 cases of prediabetes progress to full-blown diabetes, the seriousness of the disease should not be taken lightly. According to the CDC:
“Diabetes affects every major organ in the body. People with diabetes often develop major complications, such as kidney failure, blindness, and nerve damage (nerve damage can lead to amputation of a toe, foot, or leg). Some studies suggest that diabetes doubles the risk of depression, and that risk increases as more diabetes-related health problems develop. All can sharply reduce quality of life.” Additionally, diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death in the U.S., and 25% of healthcare dollars are spent on those with the condition.
Clearly, the consequences of letting prediabetes advance to type 2 aren’t desirable. And t’s especially important for seniors to nip prediabetes in the bud because it becomes more difficult to manage type 2 diabetes as we get older (you can read more about this in our blog post on diabetes and aging).
What you can do as a family caregiver
The best way to work on reversing prediabetes is to tackle those risk factors that can be controlled: health habits and lifestyle. This is something that you as the family caregiver will probably need to be involved with. Here are the changes that will have the most impact on reversing the condition:
- Weight loss – Even a modest amount (10% of body weight) was shown to help lower the risk of developing full diabetes. The best way to lose weight are by implementing these two things that are independently shown to reduce the risk:
- A healthy diet – 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.
- Exercise – Walking and other types of daily exercise can help with weight loss and 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!
- Better sleep – Sleep deprivation and sleep disorders have been linked to higher blood sugar levels. A study found that poor sleepers had 23 percent high blood glucose levels in the morning and 82 percent higher insulin resistance than normal sleepers with diabetes. It can also lead to weight gain, which is another risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Ideally, adults should get 7 to 9 hours of good quality sleep.
- Blood pressure control – Untreated high blood pressure has been linked to complications from diabetes. To keep it under control, reduce alcohol intake, quit smoking, and work toward lowering stress levels. Eating right and exercising will also help with this, which has additional benefits mentioned above.
As the family caregiver you may face some resistance from your parent or loved one in making these adjustments, but it’s worth it!
You don’t need to panic if your loved one is diagnosed with pre-diabetes (unless your doctor has specific concerns), but it should be a wake-up call to take some action. In most cases, making necessary lifestyle changes can help your parent avoid the condition progressing to full-blown diabetes. Losing some weight through better nutrition and exercise, getting enough good quality sleep, and controlling blood pressure are a few things your parent can do to reverse the condition.
If your loved one is having trouble managing their prediabetes and needs some help with meal preparation and getting more activity, bringing in a part-time professional caregiver is a great option. Caregivers at Sequoia Senior Solutions are specifically trained to help clients who have diabetes through our Diabetes Specialty Program, so their knowledge on the subject can be a great asset to your care team. Book a complimentary discovery call with a client service specialist today to learn more.