Managing diabetes as you age

November 14 is World Diabetes Day and with approximately 50 percent of all Australians with diabetes aged 65 years and over, we thought it was a good opportunity to discuss how diabetes management changes as you get older.

Diabetes care is generally the same no matter how old you are. However, there are some specific changes that happen with age and these might affect your diabetes. So, whether you’ve had diabetes for a long time, or it’s a more recent diagnosis, it’s worth being aware of a few key areas that will help you manage diabetes as you age.

As you get older, it can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference between symptoms and signs that are caused by diabetes and those that are a part of the ageing process. For example, when you were younger, and your blood glucose levels were high, you may have felt thirsty. As you get older, if you have high blood glucose levels you may lose your sense of thirst. This may affect the way you manage your diabetes and may unknowingly cause you to become dehydrated. Another example is that as your body ages, the way it absorbs medicines can change. This may affect your blood glucose levels and the way you manage your diabetes.

Have your blood glucose targets regularly reviewed by your doctor

The target blood glucose levels for people over 65 who are living independently is generally between 4 and 10 mmol/L. This range may increase to between 6 to 15 mmol/L if you take medication for your diabetes, become frail, have other health problems or are at risk of falls. Ask your doctor what targets you should be aiming for.

Regularly review your plans

As you age, your diabetes warning signs of either low or high blood glucose levels can change. This increases the importance of having a plan in place for you and your family to know what to do in case your blood glucose levels become uncontrolled and you become either hypoglycaemic (low blood glucose) or hyperglycaemic (high blood glucose).

It is also useful to have a sick day plan as your diabetes may become harder to manage when you are sick. Your doctor or diabetes educator can help you write a plan for what to do if you become unwell. It’s also important to pass this on to family and friends so they also know what to do.

It’s also important to have the following aspects of your health reviewed by your health care team on a regular basis:
• medicines
• memory
• falls risk
• food choices
• physical activity
• emotional wellbeing

Another important point is to make sure members of your health team are talking to one another about your health management.

Information from Managing Diabetes as you Age by National Diabetes Services Scheme (NDSS). To access the full booklet, visit ndss.com.au/older-people.

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