Diabetes type 2 is so common amongst older people, it has actually become the most prevalent form of the condition. If an older member of your family has recently been diagnosed with diabetes, you may be interested to learn how it may affect them, and what you can do in relation to the care your family member receives, to help with any diabetes-related issues. Most older people who are diagnosed late-on with diabetes, have what is known as diabetes type 2. Interestingly, this condition is quite different from type 1, as we will see.
The effects of type 2 diabetes are wide-ranging, and produce issues that you might not have automatically thought about. It's very important that it is diagnosed as soon as possible, because the complications that can stem from long-term untreated diabetes are very serious. We believe it is better for your relative to go to the doctor and have a test for diabetes, even if it turns out to be a false alarm, than it is for them not to be diagnosed at all, so we've included some of the symptoms of the condition in this article for your use. Even low level diabetes type 2 can have devastating long-term consequences, so knowing about it, even if the symptoms are very mild, is the first step to avoiding those problems permanently.
What is Diabetes Type 1?
Diabetes Type 1 is believed to be an autoimmune disease, where the body erroneously creates antibodies that attack the insulin-creating cells in the pancreas. Most people are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at a fairly young age, and most use insulin injections to combat it.
What is Diabetes Type 2?
Diabetes Type 2 is a very different condition. It usually occurs in people over the age of 40, and is more likely to occur if that person is overweight or obese. Type 2 diabetes emerges because the person's pancreas no longer makes an adequate quantity of insulin, or because the body's cells are no longer able to use it properly. We're going to concentrate on diabetes type 2 for this article.
How does insulin work in your body?
Insulin has a very special job in the body. It is a hormone that assists your cellular take-up of insulin. In plain English, this means it helps your cells use the insulin you produce. If your cells no longer use insulin properly, you will find you are eventually diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Insulin helps the body's cells take glucose from the bloodstream, using some of it for immediate energy, while the rest is converted into fats (glycogen) that are stored in cells for use later. In between meals, a person's blood glucose level drops, which means the insulin levels also go down. At this point, the glycogen that has been stored will undergo a conversion back to glucose, and this will go back into the bloodstream to enable the person to continue functioning until their next meal.
What are the symptoms of diabetes type 2?
If your relative is noticeably thirsty much of time, or if they pass a lot of urine when they go to the toilet, and they seem very tired and have lost a lot of weight recently, it is possible they may have diabetes type 2. These are not particularly easy-to-spot symptoms, as older people often have trouble sleeping, may not have much interest in food anyway, and may not want to mention their toilet habits to their close friends and relatives.
Why diabetes symptoms occur?
When your body does not use insulin efficiently, you tend to get a build-up of glucose in your bloodstream, which ultimately ends up in your urine. It then has the added result of drawing even more water from your kidneys, which results in more urine, and thus feeling thirsty. Other, less common, symptoms, may include blurring of the sight, and ultimately, if left unchecked, can result in permanent damage to the eyes. This is because very high glucose levels can cause a hardening of the blood vessels, and your eyes are reliant on many tiny capillaries that can be damaged or ruptured in this way. Other conditions that can form if diabetes is not treated over a long period of time include nerve damage, kidney damage, problems with the feet, and impotence. Diabetes (again, left and not treated) can also cause a greater risk of stroke and heart attacks, so it's easy to see why it's so important that early diagnosis takes place.
How diabetes can affect the care your older relative receives?
Most people with type 2 diabetes control their condition through diet. Obese and overweight people tend to have a higher blood glucose level, so losing weight is a very important aspect of diabetes control. Losing weight tends to be best when done in a healthy way, and that usually means ensuring your relative eats plenty of fruit and vegetables, with high fibre, low fat, and low sugar being the main focus. Physical fitness also helps, but that isn't always possible if a person's mobility is affected by other conditions or old age. However, if you are able to encourage your diabetic relative to take more exercise, even if it is of a very gentle nature, that will be better than nothing.
One of the most important ways in which care workers can help, is by regularly checking the feet of your relative. Diabetes affects the circulation, due to encouraging furred and hardened arteries, and this sometimes means a person may not be able to feel certain parts of their feet. As a result of this lack of feeling, they may stand on something sharp, or otherwise damage a foot without realising it, and this injury can become very serious indeed if it is later infected.
Diabetes is the number one reason why older people have to have limbs partially amputated and this is usually due to damage to their feet. In addition to that complication, as many as 85% of patients who have a leg amputated, pass away within 5 years. Foot health, when it comes to diabetes, should be a top concern of anyone who cares for or about an older person.
With this in mind, we recommend you ask your care manager to ensure your diabetic relative's feet are checked on a regular and frequent basis. It will only take someone a couple of minutes to look over a person's feet, and ensure they are intact and healthy, and the return of that time investment is priceless. If you or your family have been affected by diabetes, why not check out Diabetes UK for things to do during Diabetes Week 2017? What are your experiences of diabetes in older people? Have you got any tips for us?