Nearly one out of every four senior citizens will be diagnosed with diabetes, and with those diagnoses comes risks that might not occur for younger patients, area experts say.
The cause of the increased number of diagnoses is two-fold, said Lucy Cole, diabetes program administrator for Franciscan Medical Specialists in Munster.
While some who are diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes because they are obese or sedentary, there is also a group of otherwise healthy, active seniors who are also getting diagnosed.
That group suffers from just having a “tired pancreas,” which might not be processing as well as it used to, Cole said.
Dr. Thottathil Gopan, department of endocrinology section chief for Franciscan Medical Specialists in Munster, said older patients can present some unique challenges in their diabetes management.
“Most patients have other health problems, or memory problems,” he said. “A higher number of illnesses can make the diabetes harder to manage.”
He said patients with multiple diagnoses in addition to their diabetes, combined with memory problems, may become confused and forget which medications to take, and at what times.
“It’s very important to involve family members in their care,” he said. “Family can help with food and diet and an exercise plan.”
The risks for diabetes complications also increase when other illnesses are a factor, he said.
“They can face amputation, kidney failure or stroke,” he said.
Cole said other important factor for geriatric diabetes patients is how they manage their diets. Learning proper nutrition is as important as taking medication properly, Cole said.
There are services offered to help those diagnosed with diabetes, much of which is covered by Medicare Part B.
“If you’re diagnosed, you get three hours of medical nutrition therapy from Medicare to work with a dietician,” she said. “Every other year after your diagnosis, you get two hours of nutrition therapy.”
Methodist Hospital's Diabetes Education Program recently recieved recognition from the American Diabetes Association. According to the ADA, "Self-Management education is an essential component of diabetes treatment."
Through the support of the patient's healthcare team and increased knowledge and awareness of diabetes, patients can assume a major part of the responsibility for diabetes management.
Franciscan Medical Specialists is also considering implementing a weight-loss program, that would also be covered by Medicare, for diabetic patients.
Cole said as you age, it’s important to ask your physician for annual blood tests to determine whether you are diabetic or pre-diabetic.
Although a diabetes diagnosis might seem daunting, changes in behavior and activity can be powerful and see big results.
“Small changes can have powerful effects,” she said.
Dr. Gopan agreed.
“Diabetes is something that we can treat,” he said. “If you follow the instructions you’re given, follow the diet and medication protocol, you can live a long, long time with diabetes.”