Thanks, in part, to breakthroughs in medicine and science, Americans today are living longer. That’s the conclusion one would ostensibly reach after reading an article published by The Hill, a leading U.S. political website. It revealed that around 17.7% of the U.S. population is now age 65 or older. That is the highest percentage since 1920 and significantly higher than the 13 percent recorded in the 2010s. Although many Americans are experiencing extended lifespans, it doesn’t mean they are free from the challenges posed by health issues.
According to a separate study from the National Council on Aging, around 95% of older adults have at least one chronic health condition, and roughly 80% have two or more. It found that arthritis, heart disease, and diabetes are chronic health conditions that are especially prevalent among older adults. The study further found that heart disease, cancer, COVID-19, stroke, chronic lower respiratory diseases, neurodegenerative diseases, and diabetes are the leading causes of death among older adults.
Chronic disease and its impact on the elderly
Chronic diseases can significantly impede an individual’s ability to perform day-to-day activities. That inability causes many people to lose their independence. When that happens, it increases the need for institutional care, in-home caregivers, and other support services. One of the chronic diseases many seniors suffer from and that has been getting a lot of attention as of late is diabetes. In a study published by the National Council on Aging, researchers revealed that approximately half of all people with type 2 diabetes are people aged 65 or older. The study also notes that type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes affecting this demographic of people.
What most people don’t know about diabetes but probably should
Because type 2 diabetes is more prevalent among older adults, let’s take a moment to discuss how it differs from type 1 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the pancreas, an oblong, flattened gland behind the stomach and in front of the spine, doesn’t produce enough insulin.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that stops the pancreas from producing insulin entirely. What type 1 and type 2 diabetes both have in common is their ability to trigger high blood sugar levels in the body. While the cause of type 1 diabetes is usually genetic, type 2 diabetes is more often than not a byproduct of being obese or overweight. Because many older adults lead sedentary lives and have a slower metabolism, they often gain more weight than younger adults. For many, that additional weight gain leads to the development of type 2 diabetes. Like type 1, some of the complications that can stem from type 2 diabetes include the following:
Gum disease and other oral health problems
Heart disease and stroke
Sexual and bladder problems
Skin infections and slow-healing wounds
How an HGH imbalance can lead to diabetes
Human growth hormones are hormones that the pituitary gland produces. During childhood, they work with insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), a hormone produced by the liver, to influence height and help develop healthy bones and muscles. The two hormones also work collectively to regulate blood sugar levels during childhood and adulthood. In adulthood, human growth hormone (HGH) levels start to decline. Studies show HGH levels naturally decrease by as much as 15% each year after age 30. By age 60, most people will find that their HGH levels are less than half of what they were when they were 25. When HGH levels fall, IGF-1 levels respond in kind. Due to its activation of IGF-1, older adults with low HGH levels are at a heightened risk of developing insulin resistance and diabetes. Long story short, an HGH imbalance is as much a factor in older adults developing type 2 diabetes as being overweight or obese.
Why is diabetes dangerous for seniors
According to the Endocrine Society, older adults are at greater risk of developing diabetes-related complications than younger adults. Some of those complications include cardiovascular disease, stroke, kidney disease, diabetic retinopathy, and diabetic neuropathy, all of which can result in a lower quality of life, increased hospitalizations, and even death. And it does not stop there; older adults with diabetes are also more likely to struggle with slow-healing wounds due to impaired circulation and nerve damage. When this happens, it puts them at a heightened risk of developing chronic infections that might necessitate amputation. Other factors that make diabetes, type 1 or type 2, especially dangerous for older adults include:
Polypharmacy – For those unaware, polypharmacy refers to taking multiple medications for numerous health conditions. Polypharmacy is common among older adults diagnosed with diabetes, and it can increase the risk of drug-to-drug interactions.
Physical and cognitive decline – Many people will suffer from decreased physical abilities as they enter their golden years. The same holds for cognitive function. From maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly to medication adherence, a decline in one or both of these abilities can make managing diabetes challenging for older adults.
Mental illness – According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 14% of adults aged 60 and older have a mental illness. Some of the more common ones include depression, anxiety, and hypochondria, all of which can make managing diabetes challenging for older adults. Such mental illnesses also make older adults more susceptible to suffering from diabetic complications.
Treatment options for older adults diagnosed with diabetes
Insulin and HGH for diabetics. If you’re an older adult who has been diagnosed with diabetes, several treatments can help. For type 1 diabetes, the go-to treatment is insulin shots, which can help move glucose, also known as blood sugar, from your blood. For those with type 2 diabetes caused by an HGH imbalance, HGH hormone replacement therapy can ramp up the natural production of human growth hormones in the body and boost energy levels. Losing weight if you’re overweight or obese can also reverse the ill effects of diabetes and may even send the disease into remission naturally. Lastly, for those with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, avoiding high glycemic foods can go a long way toward preventing dangerous sugar spikes. Some examples of high glycemic foods include sugary foods and drinks, white bread, potatoes, and white rice.
In summary, monitoring your blood sugar levels and managing diabetes are things you will need to do to keep diabetic complications at bay.
That is especially true for older adults diagnosed with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Monitoring and staying on top of your blood sugar levels means frequently checking your blood sugar levels with a glucose monitor, consuming a healthy, well-balanced diet, exercising regularly, and scheduling routine annual wellness exams with your doctor.