When it comes to Diabetes awareness, information and awareness go hand in hand. Gathering and sharing of information gives us a chance to take a closer look at the health and well-being of our aging parents and to ascertain if they may or may not show signs of Diabetes. According to American Diabetes Association, Diabetes among Americans age 65 and older remains high, at 25.9%, or 11.8 million (diagnosed and undiagnosed). The most recent Health and Nutrition Survey, HANES III, suggests that approximately 20% of the population develops Diabetes by the age of 75 [1]. However, at least 50% of these individuals are unaware they have the disease [2]. Let’s raise that awareness and keep Mom and Dad well and safe at their favorite place — their own Home.

Diabetes, if diagnosed early, can be managed, which will allow your loved one to live a long, happy and uncomplicated life. Diabetes, if gone untreated, can lead to heart health issues, may cause blindness, kidney failure, and risk of lower-limb amputation [3]. There are two types of Diabetes: type 1 and type 2. Most people (90-95%) have type 2 Diabetes, which means the body is not able to maintain normal blood sugar levels [3]. In general, individuals with type 2 Diabetes have a greater risk for Alzheimer’s disease [4], twice the risk of dementia [5], and higher rates of premature death [6]. 

Another disadvantage of Diabetes among the Elderly is that the symptoms are often masked by other medical conditions and the so called normal signs of aging. Beware of these warning signs which can signal that your parent may be developing Diabetes:

1. Mom’s Ability to See and to Hear is Getting Worse

Mom may not tell you, but her Caregiver might point out that your Mom is watching TV very closely and turns on the speakers louder than usual. Hearing and vision loss are often attributed to aging in general. However, a recent study found that hearing loss is twice as common in people with Diabetes as it is in those who don’t have the disease. Of the 86 million individuals in the U.S. who have pre-Diabetes, the rate of hearing loss is 30% higher than in those with normal blood glucose [7]. Clearly there is a connection between Diabetes and hearing loss. Be on the lookout for those signs.

2. Your Mom Feels Nervous and Irritable Most of the Time

As we age, perhaps most of us feel more irritable than we did in our 20s and 30s. We are more forgetful. We may experience frequent aches and pains. We lack stimulation and social activities. That is somewhat of a normal route. However, if your aging loved one seems to be experiencing constant nervousness, anxiety and depression, we may have to raise a red flag. Anxiety often leads to depression and that is another warning signal. Depression occurs more commonly in people with Diabetes than in non-Diabetic individuals [8].

3. Your Senior Loved One Complains of Stomach Pain

Does Mom often complain about being nauseous? Does she complain about stomach pain or discomfort? Does she talk about experiencing changes in taste? Does she complain that food is not as tasty as it used to be, or has no interest in food in general? On the other hand, she may have a seemingly opposite symptoms. Mom can increase the amount of food she consumes, yet lose weight at the same time. These taste and appetite-related symptoms may be signs of Diabetes. 

4. Mom Says She Feels Extremely Tired

30-minute catnap after lunch is normal. However, does Mom lay down for a nap several times a day? Does she refuse to go for her usual walks with her Caregiver, even though this is an activity she used to enjoy so much? Does she complain about her bones hurting? Arthritis may be the cause of that, or she might have developed a Diabetes-related nerve damage in her feet (and hands) that causes numbness, tingling, pain, loss of sensation. All those symptoms, along with low glucose level, may cause Mom to lose balance, be at risk of falling, and be unwilling or uninterested in going for walks. 

5. Her Skin is Itchy

As we age, our skin often loses fat, elastic tissue, retains less water, and becomes thinner. Many Caregivers pamper and moisturize the skin of their Elderly patients. If apart from being dry, your aging loved one scratches the skin and reports itchy sensation, especially in lower legs and genital area, or develops fungal infections — chances are these skin conditions can be linked to Diabetes. 

We have to adjust our observations for local weather and seasonal changes which affect the dryness of our skin. Summers are usually more humid, whereas winters are usually more dry. Skin dryness, therefore, is usually more pronounced in winter. If Mom complains about itchy skin in winter, we have a little less to worry about. 

Any one of the above-referenced symptoms, especially if observed on a short-term basis, may not be abnormal and should not cause you to lose sleep. On the other hand, if all of those symptoms are experienced over a long duration of time, your loved one may be Diabetic. Please keep a close eye on your loved one and record, if possible, your observations in a calendar or dated journal. 

Consult with your doctor to verify the causes of your Mom’s complaints and Caregiver’s reports. Share those observations with the doctor — this is where the calendar/dated journal entries come in handy. Even if these symptoms are caused by Diabetes, once you are aware of it, you are more likely to help Mom and Dad manage it well and help them live long, happy and less complicated lives in the place they love — their own Home.

In future blogs, we will share with you some of the best practices in Diabetes prevention, and Diabetes-friendly foods.

With love for the Elderly…

References

1. Harris MI, Flegal KM, Cowie CC, et al. Prevalence of diabetes, impaired fasting glucose, and impaired glucose tolerance in US adults. Diabetes Care.1998; 21: 518-524. 

2. Harris MI. Undiagnosed NIDDM:clinical and public health issues. Diabetes Care. 1993; 16:642-652.

3. 2014 National Diabetes Statistics Report. 

http://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/data/statistics/2014statisticsreport.html

4. Diabetes In Older People—A Disease You Can Manage. National Institute on Aging. Retrieved from 

https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/diabetes-older-people

5. Strachan MW, Reynolds RM, Marioni RE, Price JF. Cognitive dysfunction, dementia and type 2 diabetes mellitus in the elderly. Nat Rev Endocrinol. 2011; 7(2):108-114.

6. American Diabetes Association. Standards of medical care in diabetes—2012. Diabetes Care. 2012;35 Suppl 1:S11-S63.

7. American Diabetes Association http://www.diabetes.org/

8. Peyrot M, Rubin  RR.  Levels and risks  of depression and anxiety symptomatology among diabetic adults. Diabetes Care1997; 20(4): 585–590.

9. National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases. 

http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/urologic-disease/urinary-tract-infections-in-adults/Pages/facts.aspx

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