State of Diabetes Care – How We Can Help Seniors Manage Theirs

Our knowledge of diabetes care, risk factors and the status of diabetes treatments is updated every two years.

Also tracked are the trends in diabetes care that can be used to focus our efforts toward prevention strategies.

The latest Diabetes Report Card was recently published by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

CDC’s ultimate goal is to improve medical care for those with diabetes and prevent diabetes-related deaths in the United States.

Diabetes Explained

Diabetes occurs when our blood sugar is high due to a failure of our bodies to make enough insulin or the inability to use the available insulin well enough to moderate the glucose in our blood.

The danger of diabetes comes from its complications when not controlled including heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, blindness, amputation and early death.

Did you know that each year more than 200,000 people die because of their diabetes? Or that it is the seventh leading cause of death? Or that 86 million of us have prediabetes, which puts us at risk not only for developing diabetes but also heart disease and stroke?

What is new in this report and what have we learned in the last two years about diabetes? Is there something different that those with diabetes or pre-diabetes should be doing to manage their disease?

Let’s see what this latest report tells us so that we can help our senior loved ones (or ourselves) better manage diabetes if we have it or prevent it if we don’t!

Diabetes Report Card

Probably the most promising news coming from data collected in this year’s report is the fact that the epidemic of incidence of diabetes is slowing. That is not to say that the numbers of those diagnosed with diabetes doesn’t continue to be alarmingly high, because it is.

Many people are still unaware that they have diabetes or prediabetes — an estimated 8.1 million — because there are few symptoms.

The prevalence of diabetes in each region of the country was analyzed and it was found that the southern states had the highest number of diabetes diagnoses. Because this area of 15 southeastern states has an especially high prevalence of diabetes it has been termed the Diabetes Belt.

This is not a term of honor.

The complications of diabetes are not just health-related but very costly. The report states that the cost of direct medical care for good and services is $176 billion. It also led to indirect costs from lost work, restricted activity, disability and early death for a total of $69 billion.

Our healthcare system is burdened with these costs when diabetes can be prevented.

More Could Better Manage Their Diabetes

Not only is prevention a key strategy for diabetes in the US but also helping those who are currently diagnosed better manage their disease. Those who have poorly controlled diabetes are at much greater risk for complications and these complications are more severe.

Due to prevention strategies enacted by the CDC as part of the Healthy People 2020 initiatives, the rate of five major complications declined in those diagnosed with diabetes – heart attack, stroke, amputations, end stage renal disease and death due to hyperglycemia.

Like the overall rate of disease, the numbers are not growing but the total number is still too high and requires further treatment and education to impact it further.

One study recently published by researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health reported that 1 in 3 seniors with diabetes fail to manage their disease and don’t meet their treatment goals. The study appears in  the journal Diabetes Care.

We, as family caregivers of our senior loved ones, need to help them better manage their disease process for a better quality of life.

Caregivers Can Help Prevent Diabetes

You and your senior loved one can take steps to prevent diabetes as well as manage your own diagnosis for better overall health. Here are a few tips to get you and your senior started.

  • Know your senior’s risk factors – some you can change, some you can’t; you can’t change your age, family history of diabetes, ethnicity or race but you can change your physical activity level, reduce obesity and eat healthier.
  • Make changes to improve your senior’s health status to reduce the modifiable risk factors
    • Your senior should work towards improving his physical health to avoid obesity. He can also begin a regular program of physical activity as well as making healthy changes to his diet. Set a weight loss goal and work toward achieving a healthy weight.
    • Get tested for diabetes since your senior may not realize that she could be developing prediabetes and diabetes. The earlier your senior begins managing her blood sugar, the healthier she will be in the future.
    • Have regular blood pressure monitoring and cholesterol/blood lipid testing and control those factors with diet, exercise and medications as necessary.
  • Learn more about the National Diabetes Prevention Program led the by CDC. It is a lifestyle change program designed to help prevent type 2 diabetes. Lifestyle coaches guide participants through education and group activities to become healthier. To find a program neat your senior, visit this registry for a locator.
  • If your senior is already diagnosed with diabetes, take advantage of self-management classes that can help you and your senior loved one control diabetes to prevent complications. Medicare covers the cost of diabetes education because it is so vital to regulate the disease.
  • Get regular annual dilated eye exams and foot exams to be sure you or your senior is not developing complications. Eye exams can also alert your senior if diabetes is a concern and yet undiagnosed.
  • To manage your senior’s diabetes, have A1C levels checked twice a year and complete daily self-monitoring of blood glucose.

Diet and Diabetes

One of the most dreaded fears of being diagnosed with diabetes is learning what you or your senior can eat.

Many people think they can no longer enjoy eating the way they want and will be stuck eating food that is tasteless. To a degree this statement is true. Perhaps you and your senior shouldn’t eat exactly as you were, there may be changes that need to be made to eat more healthy meals and snacks.

We recommend you both seek out a registered dietitian, who can help you create a personalized meal plan for you and your senior. Usually a dietitian is part of the team when you attend diabetes self-management education classes.

Here are some tips for eating with diabetes.

  • Don’t skip meals. Eat balanced meals consisting of protein, vegetables, fruits and starches. The MyPlate is a good guide for balance.
  • Don’t try to be sugar free in all things so that you avoid all sources of carbohydrates. You need glucose from starches for energy. Instead focus on carbohydrates including starches, fruits and dairy as a part of a balanced meal.
  • Not everyone needs a snack during the day, but if you take insulin be sure to eat a balanced snack before bedtime.
  • Include adequate amounts of fiber in your diet from whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Use whole fruit in place of juices to get fiber and additional nutrients.
  • Maintain appropriate portions sizes.
  • Drink water between meals not juices or energy drinks.
  • Focus on making better food choices instead of depriving yourself of certain foods.
  • You can eat out being mindful of ordering a balanced meal with correct portions. It shouldn’t be a reason to stray from a healthy meal plan.
  • Talk to your doctor or diabetes educator about how alcohol can fit into your meal plan.

You and your senior loved one can make the changes necessary to prevent diabetes especially if you are at greater risk. Once diagnosed, you can take control of your disease by managing it through education and action.