Diabetes is one of the most common conditions affecting seniors in North America. In fact, Statistics Canada estimates roughly 18% of all Canadians over the age of 65 are living with diabetes. And, as our population ages, the number of people dealing with diabetes will only continue to grow.
For those who are currently living with diabetes, learning how to manage it can ensure you’re living life as happy and healthy as possible!
Here’s what you should know:
What is Diabetes?
In a nutshell, diabetes refers to a condition where your body cannot process glucose (or sugar) in your blood. This might be because your body isn’t producing sufficient (or any) insulin, the chemical which binds to and processes glucose for energy, or because it uses what you do produce poorly. Excess sugar in the blood over time can lead to health consequences including heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, eye problems, dental disease, nerve damage, and/or foot problems.
There are two main types of diabetes you are likely to encounter, conveniently referred to as “Type 1 Diabetes” and “Type 2 Diabetes”. They both act similarly on the body and require similar treatments. However, the mechanisms which trigger them are quite different.
Type 1 Diabetes can occur at any age but is most likely first found in children and young adults. It describes diabetes caused by one’s pancreas failing to produce any insulin because their immune system keeps attacking insulin cells. If you live with Type 1 Diabetes, you will almost certainly be required to take insulin daily for the rest of your life.
Type 2 Diabetes is far more common, representing over 90% of cases diagnosed. It predominantly affects those middle-aged or older. Unlike Type 1, Type 2 more often describes a condition where your body produces at least some insulin, but does not use it well. Unlike Type 1, Type 2 is much more responsive to treatment from lifestyle changes.
Type 1 Diabetes is predicated on genetics and unfortunately cannot be prevented. Thankfully, it is relatively rare, representing less than 10% of all diabetes cases. Type 2 is far more common and, luckily, far more preventable.
The first lifestyle augmentation you should consider is your diet. People who eat large amounts of refined sugar and carbohydrates tend to be at a higher risk of diabetes than those who do not. Times have changed, though, when it comes to blood sugar management in older adults. Dietitians no longer impose strict, “no sugar” rules, as that restriction does not always improve sugar control and can negatively affect your quality of life. Instead, focus on spreading your sugar intake evenly throughout the day instead of eating it all at once. This is a great first step towards preventing and managing diabetes.
Luckily, Heart To Home Meals can help satisfy your sweet tooth without the sugar overload. Look for the red, “No Added Sugar” symbol to identify desserts that contain no added sugar. Some of our favourites are the New York Style Cheesecake and Chocolate Mousse Cake. Mmm!
We also offer low phosphorus meals with fewer than 330mg per meal and low potassium meals with less than 650mg per meal, so you have options that best reflect your health needs. For example, our special diet Turkey with Gravy comes with rice, green beans and squash and is gluten-free, lactose-free, low sodium and has controlled potassium and phosphorus.
For those who can, increasing the amount of exercise you do can also have a pronounced impact on diabetes prevention. Exercise doesn’t have to be intense or vigorous — simply incorporating a walk into your routine, lifting some light weights at home, using a stationary bike, or finding other low-impact activity you can enjoy will help reduce your risk of diabetes. As a senior, developing an exercise routine that has a low risk of injury is very important, so make sure you speak with your doctor about what might be right for you. Think of activities that you enjoy and can stick to is essential, as maintaining a routine long-term is much more impactful than doing exercise sporadically.
Living with Diabetes
With the proper lifestyle, monitoring and medication, those with Type 2 Diabetes can live healthy and happy with minimal impact to quality of life. In fact, many cases of Type 2 can be completely managed with an appropriate diet and activity without the need for daily medication.
There are some things you should avoid if you’re managing your diabetes well. First and foremost, keeping away from cigarettes is essential. Many of the side effects of smoking are shared with diabetes, and indulging in tobacco can exacerbate diabetes complications. Especially as a senior, cutting out cigarettes is important for a variety of health reasons.
Monitoring your blood sugar level and ensuring it is in your target range is also extremely important. Your physician will guide you on the blood glucose range that is appropriate for you. A glucose meter can take a small drop of your blood and give you an exact readout describing where you’re at and allow you to take proper action, which may include taking insulin. Always make sure your monitor is nearby, so you can safely check your levels whenever you feel the need.
One sometimes overlooked aspect of living with diabetes is adequate foot care. Diabetes can make it much easier to get serious infections on your feet, and so they require more care. It’s best practice to keep them clean, clip your nails regularly, wear well fitting shoes and socks, and avoid going barefoot whenever possible.
Diabetes is a common condition that disproportionately affects seniors. While it might not be rare, it is serious and needs to be treated as such. With the right lifestyle, diet, and maintenance you can enjoy life and maximize your health while living with diabetes.