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To manage diabetes, focus on more than blood sugar

Created date

April 6th, 2017
Image of healthy foods and exercise equipment

Proper diet and exercise are just a couple of ways to manage a diagnosis of diabetes.

When I think about diabetes, I think about how with every challenge comes great opportunity. Being diagnosed with diabetes creates a great challenge, both emotionally and physically, but with that challenge comes great opportunity for better health. There are many ways to successfully live with and manage this condition that, remarkably, affects more than one in four Americans over the age of 65. 

Type 2 diabetes, the most common form of diabetes in adults, is fundamentally a disorder of the body’s ability to metabolize sugar. It is caused by both genetic factors and lifestyle with first-degree relatives of diabetics having 5-10 times’ greater risk than individuals with no family history. Lifestyle risk factors include physical inactivity, dietary habits, and weight.

The impact of diabetes on health is a result of an excess of glucose in your blood. High sugar levels can impact virtually every organ in your body. The complications of diabetes include cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, vision impairment, neurologic disease, and difficulty with healing, especially of the feet. If that’s not enough, older adults with diabetes are at increased risk of memory impairment, depression, and falls—no wonder this diagnosis is often received with fear and trepidation.

Resources at your fingertips

Fortunately, however, there is much you can do to prevent and manage this disease successfully. The first step to better health with diabetes is education, and there are many resources to choose from. The American Diabetes Association ( is a great place to start and there are many others such as the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders ( Find the resource that speaks to your specific needs. 

An equally important aspect of diabetes care and management is having a physician/medical provider whom you are comfortable with and who will work closely with you in partnership. While I often emphasize this relationship, it is particularly true for this condition, which requires a daily holistic approach from lifestyle to diet to exercise to a medication regimen that suits your needs. 

By making the appropriate lifestyle changes and taking medicine, if indicated, you can absolutely reduce your risk of complications. The hard part is there is often a lot to do from managing blood pressure, cholesterol, diet, and yes, exercise, to having routine medical visits with your primary doctor, an ophthalmologist, a dentist, and often a podiatrist. 

There are many additional resources available for diabetics.  For instance, to help manage your diet, medical nutrition therapy is covered by Medicare and can help guide you in the right direction. It is a process in which your diet is personally designed for your specific medical conditions, lifestyle, and preferences. Your doctor can refer you to a dietitian for this evaluation. 

You can turn the challenge of diabetes into an opportunity for better health. Work closely with your doctor and make a plan for success and well-being.

Matt Narrett, M.D., is chief medical officer for Erickson Living and leads the medical team at all Erickson Living communities. He received his medical degree from Harvard Medical School and has been providing care for seniors for over three decades.