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Diabetes – Avoiding Complications

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More than 1/4 of Americans 65 and older have type 2 diabetes and roughly another 50% have a condition known as “prediabetes.” The odds of developing diabetes increase with age, and so do its sometimes life threatening complications: dental disease, sexual dysfunction, nerve damage to feet, amputation, heart attack, stroke, visual impairment and kidney disease. Older adults seek emergency care for blood-sugar crises twice as often as the general diabetes population.

Obesity is a well-known cause of type 2 diabetes, but a poor diet, lack of exercise, and genetics also contribute.

Most people still don’t understand how serious this disease is, and many go undiagnosed until their blood sugar levels are out of control-one reason why diabetes is known as the “silent killer.” Even when they know the risks, many people with diabetes still have trouble controlling their blood sugar levels.

Live and Thrive Despite Diabetes

In people with type 2 diabetes, either the body doesn’t produce enough of the hormone insulin or cells can’t use it properly. Insulin allows the body to use glucose-blood sugar-for energy. The complications of diabetes occur when glucose builds up in the blood and clogs small arteries instead of going into cells.

Help the person in your care commit to a 24/7 diabetes treatment plan.

Know the ABCs – AlC levels, (test that gives you a picture of your average blood glucose control for the past 2 to 3 months) Blood pressure, and Cholesterol. Like diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol can damage blood vessels, leading to heart attack or stroke. Encourage the person to work with the doctor to set goals for blood sugar numbers at different times of the day.

  • Smoking increases the risk of diabetes complications; smokers with diabetes are three times more likely to die of heart disease than nonsmokers with diabetes.
  • Yearly physicals and regular eye exams to look for signs of kidney problems, nerve damage and heart disease-as well as other medical problems. An eye care specialist will check for signs of retinal damage, cataracts and glaucoma.
  • Keep vaccines up to date. High blood sugar can weaken the immune system, which makes routine vaccines important. Ask about getting vaccines against flu, pneumonia and hepatitis B.
  • Diabetes increases the chance of gum infections. Brush, floss, and schedule dental exams at least twice a year. Consult a dentist if gums bleed or look red or swollen.
  • Aspirin reduces the blood’s ability to clot, so taking one every day can reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. The doctor will say whether daily aspirin therapy is appropriate for the person in your care.
  • Alcohol can cause low blood sugar, so it should be used only in moderation and always with a meal.
  • Work with a dietician to create an eating plan that includes lots of low-glycemic foods, which are less likely to raise blood sugar. A Mediterranean diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean meats, whole grains, and healthy fats can help.
  • Join a diabetes support group to meet other people who are facing the same challenges and discover new ways to stay healthy.

Source: NCOA, Mayo Clinic

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