Diabetes Control: What Older Americans Should Know

Adults in their golden years may have special needs when it comes to diabetes care. Only 35 percent of older adults with diabetes are managing the condition well, according to a recent study.

In general, diabetes management goals should be similar between older and younger adults. But there are few important ways that diabetes care is different for older adults.

Special Challenges for Seniors

As we age, our bodies change—and so do our needs when it comes to diabetes care. Older adults are more likely to have serious problems if their blood sugar goes too low, such as extreme confusion or passing out. Older adults are also more likely to suffer from depression.

Some older adults have special challenges that affect diabetes care, including:

•Disability and the risk of falling

•Memory and thinking problems

•Other illnesses, such as heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure

•Persistent pain

•Taking numerous medications, some of which may have serious side effects for people with diabetes.

When to Ease Up on Diabetes Control

If you’re having other health problems, your target numbers for blood sugar levels and other tests may change as you grow older.

It’s important to talk with your doctor to determine the right goals for you. He or she may recommend goals that aren’t as strict if:

•You have a hard time doing day-to-day activities or being physically active.

•You have at least three chronic illnesses, including diabetes. Chronic illnesses include cancer, arthritis, heart disease, depression, high blood pressure, emphysema, and others.

•You have mild to severe thinking, reasoning, or memory problems.

Diabetes Care As You Age

No matter your age, daily physical activity is an important part of managing your diabetes. If it’s hard for you to move, do as much activity as you can. Try taking a 10-minute walk three times a day to start. Check with your doctor before starting a new exercise plan.

If you have trouble with any part of your diabetes treatment, such as forgetting to take medications, talk with your doctor. He or she can help you find solutions to keep you healthy.

Be Prepared

Make the most of your next doctor visit. Our free Ask My Doctor form helps you make note of any recent medical problems, symptoms you’re experiencing, and medications you take.


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“Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Glucose).” American Diabetes Association. www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/treatment-and-care/blood-glucose-control/hypoglycemia-low-blood.html.

“Manage Your Diabetes Every Day.” National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health.nihseniorhealth.gov/diabetes/manageyourdiabeteseveryday/01.html.

“Prevalence of and Racial Disparities in Risk Factor Control in Older Adults with Diabetes: The Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study.” C.M. Parrinello et al. Diabetes Care. Vol. 38, no. 7, pp. 1290-98.

“Tips for Older Adults with Diabetes.” National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health. www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-communication-programs/ndep/living-with-diabetes/older-adults/tips-diabetes/Pages/resourcedetail.aspx.