Seniors and Diabetes – 9 Causes and Symptoms of Diabetes
Though I write on seniors and their issues, I certainly don’t know everything. A few days ago, I was looking back at all the articles I had written over the last two years and had a lightbulb moment. It was one of those aha flashes of momentary brilliance causing me to scratch my head and realize I had serendipitously happened upon another issue seniors struggle with.
It’s safe to say no one likes disease or sickness. It’s also fairly common knowledge that all or most diseases can or will weaken your immune system, making you more susceptible to other infections or diseases. That said, there may, arguably, be no disease more debilitating than diabetes. According to the NIH (National Institute of Health) diabetes occurs when one’s blood glucose level (also known as blood sugar) is too high. “Blood glucose is your main source of energy and comes from the food you eat. Insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas, helps glucose from food get into your cells to be used for energy. Sometimes your body doesn’t make enough—or any—insulin or doesn’t use insulin well. Glucose then stays in your blood and doesn’t reach your cells.”
The two most common types of diabetes are Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1 occurs most often in children and young adults. Type 2 is more common, occurring most often in middle-aged and older adults. “Your chance of getting type 2 diabetes is higher if you are overweight, inactive, or have a family history of diabetes. A third, Latent Autoimmune Disease in Adults (LADA) occurs when “the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks cells that make insulin.” Contrasted to adults with Type 2 diabetes, adults with LADA are thin and have no family history of diabetes. As a general rule of thumb, they need to start taking insulin within six months of their diagnosis.
I stated earlier that diabetes may possibly be one of the planet’s more debilitating diseases. I say that because studies not only by the American Diabetes Association (ADA), but others, link it directly to heart disease, stroke, vision problems, kidney issues, and nerve damage. In extreme cases of nerve damage, it can lead to blindness or amputation.
What does all this have to do with seniors? According to the ADA, the CDC, in 2018, reported that over 14 million adults over age 65 have diabetes; that’s greater than 26% of the senior population. Furthermore, approximately 1.5 million new cases are diagnosed each year. That, to me, points to a significant issue and why this next series will be tackling seniors and diabetes. Today, I will be sharing the causes and symptoms of diabetes.
Before we venture any further, it’s important to first have a basic understanding of the roles of insulin and glucose. Per the Mayo Clinic, insulin is stored in the pancreas and passed into the bloodstream. Its job is to allow sugar to enter the body’s cells, lowering the amount of sugar in the bloodstream. “As your blood sugar level drops, so does the secretion of insulin from your pancreas.”
Glucose is a sugar and is the chief source of energy for the body’s muscles and tissues. Its two major sources are food and the liver. With the help of insulin, glucose is absorbed into the bloodstream and enters the body’s cells. “When your glucose levels are low, such as when you haven’t eaten in a while, the liver breaks down stored glycogen into glucose to keep your glucose level within a normal range.”
Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is most often found in children and known, in those instances, as juvenile diabetes. T1D, however, can also be found in adults. The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) defines T1D as “an autoimmune disease in which a person’s pancreas stops producing insulin, a hormone that controls blood-sugar levels. T1D develops when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, called beta cells.” The experts are not exactly sure what the causes are, but the T1D is attributed to a combination of factors including genetic, environmental, and immune issues.
The Mayo Clinic says, “type 2 diabetes develops when the body becomes resistant to insulin or when the pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin. Exactly why this happens is unknown, although genetics and environmental factors, such as being overweight and inactive, seem to be contributing factors.”
I am definitely not a physician or anything close to an expert on diabetes, and while there are no known direct causes for diabetes besides environmental factors and genetic predisposition, I personally believe that a healthy diet and exercise can help alleviate if not altogether avoid ever having diabetes. According to the British Medical Journal (BMJ), “the evidence points to promoting patterns of food intake that are high in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and dairy products such as yogurt.” Also, “consensus exists on reducing or avoiding the intake of processed red meats, refined grains, and sugars (especially sugar-sweetened drinks) both for prevention and management of type 2 diabetes.” Franziska Spritzler, RD, CDE, a member of Healthline’s nutrition team, cites research showing that moderate exercise can prevent diabetes, but post-diagnosis physical activity becomes essential to keeping diabetes under control.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the symptoms for diabetes include:
- increased thirst and urination
- increased hunger
- blurred vision
- numbness or tingling in the feet or hands
- sores that do not heal
- unexplained weight loss
Symptoms for Type 1 diabetes will often appear within a matter of weeks. Symptoms for Type 2 may not appear for several months or years when they begin to have diabetes-related health problems like blurred vision or heart disease.
Once again, I have taken a broad brush stroke to a lengthy and complex issue. Understanding diabetes, its causes, and symptoms is no easy task. Hopefully, I have been able to pinpoint some of the basics and let you act upon them as you see fit. My sharing today has purposely been very narrow so I could focus on seniors. For example, I mentioned, in passing only, juvenile diabetes and LADA. I deliberately left out any lengthy discussions of prediabetes and gestational diabetes. The former is, as it says, glucose levels that do not yet reach the level of Type 2 diabetes. Gestational diabetes can develop during pregnancy, and I, personally, don’t know of any women age 65 or older who are pregnant or planning to be.
My hope is you see the value in this “alert” and understand, as I do, why diabetes is a problem not just for seniors but for everyone, young and old. The symptoms I shared may, of course, relate to another health issue, but if persistent, you should, without hesitation, consult your physician.