In addition to the rise in those diagnosed with diabetes, the cost of treating the disease is increasing due to the aging population, obesity and more aggressive treatment. In fact, the estimated cost of diabetes in '07 was about $174 billion, and the average out-of-pocket annual expense for a person with diabetes was nearly $12,000.
With the incidence of diabetes on the rise, and treatment costs increasing at astronomical rates, diabetes care is becoming an increasingly important concern for the U.S. healthcare system. Unfortunately, the symptoms and effects of diabetes on the elderly can be more difficult to identify for a variety of reasons – and treatment can be more complicated, too.
Understanding the symptoms of hyperglycemia and hyperglycemia will help you better understand the effect of diabetes on the elderly, as well as help you identify and treat the two most common diabetes-related emergencies found in the senior population.
The symptoms of diabetes in the elderly can be masked, making the disease more difficult to diagnose. Warning signs like increased thirst, frequent urination and vision problems may be overlooked because of the common affects of aging on the body. For example, a normal decrease in thirst due to age can offset the typical increased thirst experienced by people with diabetes. Changes such as mental confusion, incontinence and other health complications related to diabetes are more often the presenting symptoms.
Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) are the two most common, yet threatening, diabetes-related emergencies experienced by the elderly. Unfortunately, they are commonly overlooked because cognitive impairment, such as dementia or other mental illness can make it difficult for the elderly to recognize the symptoms of diabetes-related emergencies.
Symptoms of Hypoglycemia
Hypoglycemia typically occurs when a senior parent or other elderly person with diabetes misses a meal or snack. Symptoms of hypoglycemia include:
These are just some of the most common effects of hypoglycemia in the elderly. If your parent or another elderly person exhibits symptoms of hypoglycemia, immediately administer a form of sugar that can be easily absorbed, such as glucose tablets, juice, or soda pop.
Symptoms of Hyperglycemia
Hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) is caused by too much food, reduced activity, missed insulin or even another illness and may develop over hours or days. The most common hyperglycemia symptoms are:
If anyone you know, especially an elderly person, is suffering from the effects of hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia, be sure to check with their physician or call for emergency care.
Depression and Other Symptoms
The effect of diabetes on the elderly is often stronger – and the treatment is often more difficult –for a variety of reasons. Depression, dementia, mental illness or other cognitive impairments can cause an elderly person to be forgetful. They may miss mealtimes, or be unable to remember to check blood sugar levels or take their medication as prescribed. In addition, a new study suggests that elderly people with symptoms of depression are 60% more likely to develop diabetes. While the link is not completely understood, it means that if your parent or another person suffers from depression, there is a good chance they have, or will develop diabetes.
Financial limitations are another challenge for older diabetics. Many senior citizens are on limited incomes, and the high price of medications and necessary healthcare may contribute to non-adherence to medications and the lack of proper medical supervision. There are many stories of the elderly splitting or skipping pills in order to make their supply last longer. Even transportation to and from medical appointments can become an issue. Unfortunately, they are putting their health at risk.
Another reason the effects of diabetes on the elderly are felt more strongly is because seniors are more likely to suffer from inadequate nutrition and lack of proper exercise. The most important things you can do to help your parents, or another elderly person, minimize the effects of diabetes include:
Following these tips should make diabetes care for the elderly more effective, and reduce the chances of diabetes-related complications, such as hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia.