Approximately 27% (or about 14.3 million) of American adults over the age of 65 have diabetes, and another 1.5 million Americans are diagnosed with diabetes each year.
Diabetes may affect millions of people, but many of them continue to live happy and active lives regardless of their diagnosis. In many cases, a family member or loved one acts as a caretaker at home to help ensure their loved one remains safe and follows advice from their medical provider. This may include helping with medications, diet, exercise, and ensuring their loved one gets to regular appointments.
Being a caretaker can be challenging. However, with the appropriate information and a list of tips and tricks, you can help your loved one with diabetes maintain a happy, healthy, and active lifestyle.
Diabetes is broken down into three main Types. The most common is Type 2 diabetes.
A significant portion of diabetes care and management centers on insulin. For seniors with Type 1 diabetes, daily insulin is needed to maintain healthy blood glucose levels. Insulin can be administered via injection or through an insulin pump.
If your loved one uses insulin injections to manage blood glucose, there are a few important tips to remember:
NOTE: Developing the most effective insulin regimen may require trial and error. It is vital to work with your senior loved ones primary care provider to find the best insulin, injection site and injection times.
Once your senior loved one is diagnosed with diabetes, regardless of Type, there is no cure. However, you can do things as a caretaker to help reduce their risk of diabetes complications. Such as:
Many people worry about what their diet will be after learning they have diabetes. Seniors often wonder what they can eat and what they should steer clear of. As their caregiver, you can help them maintain their diet and still enjoy their favorite foods when it is appropriate.
A diabetic-friendly diet consists of a variety of healthy foods from all food groups. Your loved one’s primary care provider will work with you to help determine the right amount of daily caloric intake for their specific needs. Examples of the food groups and diabetic-friendly options are below:
It is important to limit foods that are high in saturated or trans fats, sodium, and added sugars or sweets. A few examples of foods to avoid include:
A regular routine of healthy activity can help your loved one in many ways. Being active helps maintain blood sugar levels and helps with weight loss. It can alsoo help reduce the risk of other physical and mental health concerns that contribute to disease onset or progression in seniors.
Even a moderate exercise, such as walking, helps to increase heart and breathing rates. This helps your muscles use more glucose (the sugar that is present in the blood), which can help to lower blood sugar levels.
If your loved one’s doctor says it is OK, encourage a healthy amount of activity each week. Examples of excellent activities you can do together include:
Diabetic care requires regular medical appointments with primary care providers and specialists. If your loved one is successfully managing their diabetes, they will require visits to their primary care provider every six months. If possible, attend their appointment with them so you are aware of any important information or treatment needs they have.
People with diabetes also see a range of specialists who complement general medical care. Below are the most common:
In addition to a Primary Care Provider, your loved one may have regular appointments with an endocrinologist, a Type of provider that specializes in diabetes care. An endocrinologist will:
Vision complications are a common challenge among diabetics. Eye problems including glaucoma, cataracts and diabetic retinopathy (retina damage) can occur without regular eye appointments. The American Diabetes Association recommends:
Nerve damage and blood flow problems to the feet can lead to difficulties with circulation and sensation. Diseases that affect how the blood flows to the feet are common among diabetics. Someone with diabetes may also have problems healing injuries to the feet such as blisters, cuts, or trauma injuries. Annual visits to the foot doctor can help prevent serious infections that can lead to serious medical complications.
Your loved ones medication list will vary depending on whether they have Type 1 or Type 2 Diabetes.
With Type 1 diabetes, daily insulin is required to manage blood sugar levels because the body does not make insulin on its own. The Type of insulin your loved one needs will depend on how far reduced their insulin levels are. They may need:
Someone with Type 1 Diabetes may also need medications to slow the speed at which the stomach empties. These medications, called Amylinomimetic drugs, may also help with appetite reduction and dietary management.
With Type 2 Diabetes the body still makes insulin but struggles to use it properly. Most of the medications used by people with Type 2 diabetes are oral medication however, some individuals may need insulin injections as well. Examples of typical Type 2 diabetes medications include:
Depending on your loved ones specific needs their medical provider may prescribe a combination of these medications and others to help manage symptoms. Unfortunately, managing a regular medication regimen with multiple medications can be confusing. It can help to have the assistance of a caregiver to ensure medications are taken safely and properly.
Successfully managing diabetes requires routine and careful monitoring. A home care aid can assist your loved one with managing their diabetes. Many care aids can help with blood sugar checks, provide reminders to take medications, assist with cooking and help with dietary management. They can also provide supervision and guidance necessary for your loved one to exercise and be active safely. Depending on the care aid and their licensing they may also be able to assist with medication administration.
Anisha Rao, MPP is a Certified Healthcare Professional and Consultant, with experience in Chronic Diseases, Chronic pain, and Diabetes Self-Management. She's also worked with non-profits, public health agencies, as well as senior living providers and rehabs.
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