Live well with diabetes

Created date

October 22nd, 2009

You ve just been given a diagnosis of diabetes at the age of 72. You think, "That s not so bad all I have to do is take my medication, watch what I eat, and check my blood sugar." [caption id="attachment_6405" align="alignright" width="200" caption="(File photo)"]Barbara Morris, M.D. "Recently I examined an 89 year old who was newly diagnosed with diabetes." When you have type 2 diabetes, the body does not respond correctly to insulin. Insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas, is needed to move blood glucose into cells, where it is stored and used for energy. When blood glucose cannot enter cells, abnormally high levels build up in the blood. Diabetes is often called a silent disease because many people have no signs or symptoms. "Older adults may even attribute diabetes symptoms, or common aches and pains, to the aging process," Anderson says. Signs of diabetes include thirst; frequent urination; frequent hunger or fatigue; weight loss; sores that heal slowly; dry, itchy skin; loss of feeling or tingling in the hands or feet; or blurry eyesight.

Lifestyle changes for your best health

Diabetes is a serious, lifelong disease. "It s not a short-term illness in which you change a few things and then you get better," Morris says. "People with diabetes should understand that lifestyle or behavioral changes, like healthy eating and exercise, are for the long haul." Making healthy food choices does not mean you have to radically change your diet. "You shouldn t try to drastically change your lifelong eating habits," says Becky Odabashian, MS, RD, clinical dietitian at Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital in Baltimore, Md. "The best approach is to make minor changes." Consider consulting a registered dietitian. "A dietitian can help you formulate an individualized, easy-to-follow nutrition plan," Odabashian says. "Managing a diabetic diet is contingent upon any other medical conditions that you may have, so talk to your doctor first. With Medicare and most other insurances, you need a doctor s referral to see a dietitian." Regular exercise can tackle many aspects of diabetes and its complications. It helps you lose weight, control your cholesterol and blood pressure, and improve your body s use of insulin. Exercise can also reduce your risk of developing diabetes in the first place. A recent study by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases showed that moderate physical activity and modest weight loss were especially effective in preventing or delaying the development of diabetes in older people. In fact, people in the study over the age of 60 were able to reduce their risk for developing type 2 diabetes by 71%. "Lifestyle changes are the foundation of treatment for people with diabetes," Anderson says. "A certified diabetes educator (CDE) can help you figure out how to implement those changes and how to overcome any particular barriers you may have. They can also guide you through the health care system to get all the help you need to manage your diabetes." Ask your doctor for a referral to a CDE. Morris concludes, "The key to managing diabetes is having a collaborative team that helps you combine lifestyle changes with medical interventions to help you stay healthy." You should think differently. According to experts, receiving a diagnosis of diabetes is akin to being told you have heart disease. "The number one killer of people with type 2 diabetes is heart disease," says Sigrid Anderson, RN, certified diabetic educator and coordinator of the Diabetes Resource Center at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore, Md. "Everybody thinks about diabetes in terms of blood sugar levels, but diabetes can really be considered a cardiovascular disease." When you have diabetes, your risk of a heart attack or stroke is the same as someone who has already had a heart attack or stroke. This is because over time, elevated blood glucose (blood sugar), which is the hallmark of diabetes, may cause serious damage to the eyes, kidneys, nerves, and the heart and vascular system.