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Starting the Dialogue with your Aging Parents: Diabetes Risk

November 18, 2013

A little known fact to the general public and one sometimes left untreated in the aging population is a diagnosis of Prediabetes (also known as Abnormal Glucose levels or Hyperglycemia) or even Type II diabetes. I won’t get into the reasons why these diagnoses are untreated, but I want to convey to those of you involved with the health and well-being of your aging parents that this can be serious and must be addressed.

Here are a few myths to consider:

  • Myth #1:  My parents or I can’t get Diabetes unless we were diagnosed earlier.  False
  • Myth #2:  Even if the doctor tells me or my parents that Diabetes has developed there is nothing to be done about it since we’re so old.   False
  • Myth #3The only treatment for diabetes is insulin shots.  False
  • Myth #4: There’s no such thing as Prediabetes. You either have Diabetes, or not.  False      
  • Myth #5:  I’m too old and have too many other health issues to worry about Diabetes.  False

Let’s look at each of these myths one at a time.

People of all ages are being diagnosed with Prediabetes and Diabetes every day. Most cases of Type I Diabetes are young people, but we are seeing more and more Type II Diabetics being diagnosed at earlier ages. The other day there was a child aged 4 diagnosed in our clinic. This was unheard of until recently. In addition, we frequently have people over age 70, with no previous indications diagnosed with Diabetes Type II.

In addressing Myth #1 there are a multitude of reasons for the diagnosis of such a devastating disease, but some of the major ones can be tied to decreased physical activity; consumption of foods high in carbohydrates (sugar, white flour, processed foods); decreased consumption of fresh vegetables, whole grains, fruits, and fiber; and lives filled with stress over long periods of time where the body has no time to recover.

For those who believe Myth #2 there is a significant body of evidence showing that losing weight, increasing physical activity, and eating healthier foods can reverse the risks associated with Prediabetes and decrease the risks of complications in those already diagnosed with Diabetes. Tight blood sugar control is a key factor in knowing how beneficial the efforts of an individual are when trying to control or reverse the effects of Diabetes.

For those with Type I Diabetes insulin is a life saver and may be the medication of choice to treat their disease although there have been many who have decreased their need for insulin by following a healthy diet and participating in physical activity. Those with Type II Diabetes however, can debunk Myth #3 and prevent the need for insulin by following a medication regimen with oral medications, healthy eating, adequate physical activity, tight blood glucose control, and frequent oversight by their medical provider.

There are evidence-based guidelines with reams of scientific data to show that proper attention to Diabetes, regardless of the age of diagnosis and the type of Diabetes diagnosed, can decrease the risk of complications and slow, or halt,  the progression of the disease. The key factor here is how motivated the individual is to make the changes in lifestyle necessary to achieve the desired results.

In order to be motivated you, and your aging parents, need to be informed. Seek out information from health providers who deal specifically with Diabetes. There are programs in every state across the country to help raise awareness and to provide support while making an effort to change. The web is full of information, tips, menus, and healthy action plans to assist in making the necessary lifestyle changes.

Addressing Prediabetes and debunking Myth #4 is now gaining national attention. This month’s Prevention magazine carried an article  about four women involved in a program to address Prediabetes. The Today Show recently had a segment on the same program. YMCA’s and health care clinics are sponsoring classes addressing Prediabetes.

Why the push? Because we are a nation increasing in girth. Obesity is rampant and a precursor to a diagnosis of Diabetes. As more people are diagnosed with Diabetes there will be increased generations with a family history of Diabetes. Aging presents an increased risk of a diagnosis of Diabetes and we are experiencing the aging of a large cohort of baby boomers. All of these are factors leading to an increased risk of diagnosis of Prediabetes or Diabetes. If we can recognize and halt the progression at the Prediabetes stage we can decrease the number of individuals eventually diagnosed, and living with the complications of Type II Diabetes.

In case you are not aware of the complications associated with Diabetes here are just a few of the most prominent:

Increased risk of heart disease

Increased risk of stroke

Kidney disease leading to the need for dialysis


Neuropathy of the extremities (painful numbness and tingling leading to loss of feeling)

Amputation of limbs

Increased risk of infection

Slower healing of wounds

With the above potential complications are you still willing to buy into Myth #5 and consider this as something that doesn’t need to be addressed? By dealing with a diagnosis of Prediabetes or Type II Diabetes in a responsible and proactive manner individuals of all ages may find that they can decrease the effects of other diagnoses they may have.

A healthy diet and increased physical activity are known to decrease the effects of heart disease, lower the risk of stroke, ease the pain of arthritis, and increase immune response and function. Even a small number of pounds dropped has an impact on health.

Talk to your parents about their health. If a medical provider indicates they have Prediabetes or Type II Diabetes help your parents develop a workable action plan to address the issues involved. Be aware of the medications they are taking and, if your parents will allow it, speak with their health care provider for information on what you can expect from the medications. Be informed and get healthy yourself while you are assisting your aging  parents.

If you have a personal story or comment on this subject please feel free to share it in the Comments section. I would love to hear from you! Thank you for reading my blog.

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