Diabetes can affect people at any age, but a large proportion of newly diagnosed diabetes is amongst the elderly and their treatment requires a unique approach due to susceptibility to illness; impaired physical functioning; difficulty in adapting to a diet and age-related changes that make symptoms more difficult to spot. In this article, we will discuss the risks associated with diabetes, treatment, prevention and how domiciliary care can help those suffering with it.
Diabetes Risks for the Elderly
The lifestyle changes necessary to manage diabetes can be especially hard for elderly people, due to their potential frailty and other existing health conditions. Those experiencing difficulty swallowing or problems with chewing, for example, will find it harder to get enough nutritional content, due to the discomfort associated with eating. Likewise, a loss of mobility will mean that taking the right medication, getting enough exercise and finding the strength to eat at the necessary times will be difficult.
Older people are also more susceptible to illness and therefore they are more likely to suffer from the additional complications associated with diabetes. Those at risk of – or those who have already developed the disease but are still undiagnosed – may exhibit the classic symptoms, these could at first be attributed to age-related changes and diseases.
The common complications of diabetes are:
- Heart disease
- Nerve damage
- Vision problems
- Diabetic retinopathy
These conditions occur—in a majority of cases,—due to uncontrolled blood glucose levels, causing significant damage to blood vessels and nerves which supply organs and therefore causing impaired functioning.
Elderly diabetics are predisposed to hypoglycemia, which is a condition caused when glucose present in the blood falls below 4mmol/L. Those who are suffering from chronic kidney problems have poor food intake, and those who are being prescribed 5 or more medications, are at risk of developing hypoglycemia. It is important to make sure friends and family are aware of the signs of hypoglycemia; listed below:
- Feeling dizzy
There are also less common symptoms, which should be taken into consideration:
- Feeling hungry
- Blurred vision
- Being pale
- Higher heart rate
- Loss of consciousness
If a loved one is experiencing any of these symptoms, they should be treated immediately with fast-acting glucose such as a sugary drink (that isn’t milky or hot), or glucose tablets followed by something starchy, such as bread or pasta. If the person is unconscious, you should seek immediate medical assistance and call an ambulance.
Treatment and Prevention in a Domiciliary Care Setting
Yourself or a loved one may be considering a residential home, as managing diabetes alone can become more difficult. However, it is important to note that this is not a perfect solution, as the personalised and one-on-one care needed for those with diabetes can be difficult to find in a care home. Figures actually show a high rate of undernutrition in care homes, suggesting that those with specific nutritional needs will struggle in a care home setting.
Those at risk should have a nutritional assessment and seek advice from a qualified dietitian, to help them draft meal plans and answer any dietary concerns. This assessment should include personal food preferences and be contained within a personalised care plan. It is important to keep in mind that reducing fat, salt and sugar for every older person with diabetes is not always appropriate, and therefore one should seek professional advice.
Unlike care homes, which have set meals, in a domiciliary care setting a Professional Carer will be able to cook a tailored meal for you or a loved one, according to the nutritional information contained in the care plan and one’s preferences. Those with diabetes should have regular mealtimes, with snacks that contain carbohydrates. A Professional Carer will be able to monitor these and encourage a person to eat according to their set plans.
A risk of complications can be reduced by eating a healthy diet, losing weight, lowering one’s alcohol intake, quitting smoking, having control over glucose levels and taking regular exercise.
If you or your loved one requires help managing diabetes, please give Cera a call on 020 3034 4784.