Diabetes in Seniors—Know These 5 Early Signs

This week is National Diabetes Week, and it’s time to have some thoughtful discussions about the cause, warning signs, and impact of diabetes.

So, here are some early signs of diabetes in seniors, to help prevent and manage the chronic disease that around 1.3 million Australians live with each year.

What is Diabetes in Seniors?

Let’s start with an overview of diabetes, in simple terms.

Some of the food we eat breaks down into glucose, a form of sugar that provides much-needed energy to our bodies. To use glucose effectively, our pancreas produces insulin, which regulates sugar levels and allows us to store energy. People with diabetes either don’t produce enough insulin to manage glucose levels, or they’re unable to use the insulin they produce properly. This leads to excess glucose in their bloodstream, which in turn is bad for their health.

Diabetes is thought to affect around 25%-33% of older adults, with Type 2 diabetes being the most common. Type 2 diabetes is mostly preventable, commonly caused by poor food choices and a lack of exercise. This means that healthy choices, including eating lots of fruit and veg and exercising regularly, could greatly reduce your risk of developing the disease.

5 Early Warning Signs of Diabetes in Seniors

Prediabetes (the beginning of diabetes) can present with mild symptoms that are easy to overlook. So, it’s important to pay close attention to how you’re feeling day-to-day as you age.

  1. Increased Thirst and Urination

Excess glucose makes our kidneys kick into overdrive, working hard to remove it from our system. With our kidneys working so hard, we’ll likely experience intense thirst or extra trips to the bathroom.

  1. Blurred Vision

High blood sugar (excess glucose) can strain the blood vessels in our eyes, which can then cause blurry vision. This blurry vision may only be temporary but can cause issues with sight, if left untreated.

  1. Extreme Fatigue

As we age, our endurance tends to decline, leading to feelings of fatigue. This makes it easy to dismiss extreme fatigue as a normal symptom of growing older. However, is it not normal to feel fatigued for days or weeks on end, or after a good night’s sleep.

Because diabetes and prediabetes make it difficult to process glucose (and therefore create energy), our body may feel exhausted no matter how much we eat or sleep.

  1. Slow-Healing Wounds

High blood sugar limits blood flow, especially to our limbs, and blood flow is very important for healing wounds. People with prediabetes might find that small cuts or abrasions take much longer to heal than normal. Or, they may experience recurring infections.

  1. Weight Changes

Seniors with prediabetes may lose a few kilos without any conscious effort, as the body burns stored fat instead of using energy from food (glucose). On the other hand, extreme fatigue and a lack of energy may increase feelings of hunger, leading to overeating. If your weight has fluctuated an unusual amount (either up or down), it’s time to consult a doctor.

Diabetes and prediabetes may manifest differently in each person. You might experience one or all of the symptoms listed above, or a different set of symptoms entirely. If you notice any changes in your health or any strange sensations in your body, it’s incredibly important to consult your GP as soon as possible.

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