The Prevalence and Risk of Diabetes in the Elderly

There’s no sugar-coating these facts. According to the latest statistics released by the American Diabetes Association, diabetes affects over 29 million Americans – that’s just over 9 percent of our population. However, diabetes in the elderly is even more prevalent; Americans aged 65 and over account for about 11.8 million of those with diabetes, meaning that about 1 in 4 seniors suffers from the disease. What may be even more sobering is the fact that, by-and-large, individuals with elderly diabetes could have taken action to prevent or delay the condition, which is caused in part by lifestyle choices.

There are two types of diabetes that typically affect different portions of the population: type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes. Type 1 was previously known as juvenile diabetes, as it is typically diagnosed in children and younger adults, and is caused by the body’s inability to produce insulin, a hormone that allows the body to use sugar as energy. Type 1 diabetes accounts for only about 5 percent of diabetes cases. Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, accounts for the overwhelming majority of diabetes in the elderly and other age groups. This form of diabetes is caused by insulin resistance, which is when the body does not properly use the insulin that it creates. Many doctors believe insulin resistance has a possible link to risk factors like obesity and high blood pressure.

Those who are risk for developing type 2 diabetes often have “pre-diabetes,” or higher than normal blood sugar levels that are not quite high enough to warrant a diabetes diagnosis. For older adults whose lifestyles may leave them at risk for diabetes, it is imperative to schedule regular blood sugar level checks with their doctor. If you are diagnosed with pre-diabetes, the Centers for Disease Control also recommends losing 5 to 7 percent of one’s body weight and getting at least two and a half hours of weekly exercise, steps that previous successful studies have shown can delay or even prevent type 2 diabetes.

When it comes to preventing type 2 diabetes in the elderly, those at risk truly play the most important role. If this includes you, talk to your doctor today about how you can begin to combat the risk of diabetes.

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