Let’s Talk About Diabetes

Diabetes: it’s a disease that affects one in four people over the age of 65 in the U.S. – a no laughing matter. Over half of Americans over 65 have prediabetes and are at great risk of developing the disease.

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What is Diabetes?

Diabetes affects the way the body handles glucose, which is a type of sugar, in the bloodstream. Your body turns glucose into energy with the aid of insulin, which is a hormone produced by the pancreas.

There are three types of diabetes: Type 1, Type 2, and Gestational.

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body does not produce insulin at all. Out of the two types, Type 1 occurs less frequently – around 10% of all diabetes cases are Type 1. Usually a person develops this form of the disease during the teenage years or early adulthood.

Type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the disease, occurs when the body develops insulin resistance. The diabetic still produces insulin, but that person’s cells can’t use it as well as they should. This causes increased insulin production, which leads to glucose build up in the bloodstream.

Gestational diabetes occur during pregnancy, when the woman’s body isn’t able to produce enough insulin to handle the high amounts of glucose in the body. Diagnosis occurs during pregnancy. This type of diabetes can usually be controlled with diet and exercise.

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Causes of Diabetes

There isn’t just one cause. Sometimes, it’s genetics – you might have heard someone say, “I have to be careful, my family member has diabetes.” Various studies of twins suggest that genetics can play a key role in inheriting the disease.

Sometimes, it’s the body being overweight, which causes insulin resistance; or, sometimes the cells just can’t to seem to talk to each other. Other times, it’s the liver being unable to slow down the flow of glucose. Consuming lots of sugar can lead to the illness as well.

Unfortunately, the risk of diabetes increases with age, so seniors have to be extra weary of their health choices in order to lower the chances of developing the disease.

Signs of Diabetes

The sure way to know is to visit a doctor and get a blood glucose test. But, if you or your mom or your spouse have not been tested, then you should look for various physical signs.

Generally, a diabetic will always be very thirsty (which also means lots of trips to the bathroom). Symptoms of the disease include blurry vision and hearing loss, as well as a tingling sensation in the feet and hands.

Diabetes also causes reoccurring yeast infections, slower rate of wound healing, irritable mood, and the never-ending feeling of being worn out.

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Prevention & Treatment: Diet

Diabetes can be treated (and prevented) in several ways.

Usually, a diabetic – especially the one who has Type 1 diabetes — will need daily insulin shots, but there are also special diets and exercise that people with diabetes need to practice.

When it comes to diet, one important thing to remember is that a diabetic should stay away from processed foods. A big part of fighting diabetes is maintaining healthy weight and consuming less processed sugar. It is a myth that a diabetic needs to eat special foods – the key to healthy eating is balance and moderation.

Although carbohydrates have an impact on the body’s sugar levels, a diabetic doesn’t necessarily have to avoid them, just be smart about which types they eat. Choosing high-fiber, slow-release carbs is the way to go.

For example: choose brown rice instead of white rice, whole-wheat bread or past instead of regular bread or pasta, peas instead of corn, rolled or steel-cut oats instead of instant oatmeal.

A diabetic should eat vegetables, beans, and fruits that do not contain any starch, like apples, pears, and peaches.

Avoiding high sugar intake, especially of the “hidden sugars” – high-fructose corn syrup, fructose, corn sweetener, lactose, invert sugar, malt syrup, and more – is a must for a diabetic, or someone who wants to prevent the onset of the disease.

It is also important to avoid trans fats and saturated fats, and to cut down on those soft drinks (and alcohol).

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Prevention & Treatment: Exercise

Getting active and losing weight helps prevent the onset of diabetes. This is especially important for older people, as they are at a higher risk of developing the disease.

Exercise does not mean making the gym into a second home – there are plenty of fun activities, like jogging, swimming, yoga, or dancing, that function as great exercise for the entire body.

It is important to strength train twice a week, but even that should be done progressively; strength training can be simple body-weight exercises, like push-ups, pull-ups, and sit-ups. The goal is to keep the body active.

Exercise becomes much easier when it is done with someone else, and when it becomes a habit.

Final Thoughts

Diabetes brings life-long suffering, something that gets only tougher to handle as we age. Every age group should be aware of the health choices they make, but seniors should pay the extra attention as they are the most vulnerable. Exercise and a healthy diet lead to better health, and, ultimately, to a decreased chance of getting the illness.

Talk to your family and friends about diabetes. Get tested. Get them tested. Encourage them to be a more active, to quit smoking, to eat healthier. Because, in the long run, diabetes is not something you can just “get over” in a few days, but something that stays with you for the rest of your life.

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