Seniors and diabetes: how homecare can help

Diabetes is on the rise, with 1 in 3 Canadians diagnosed as diabetic or pre-diabetic. Of these, 90% will have type 2 diabetes and 48% will be over 65 years of age.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes affects how our bodies can break down the food we eat and turn it into energy. When we eat, our digestive system breaks down food into sugar, which enters our bloodstream. When the sugar level in our blood rises, our pancreas releases insulin, which allows cells to access the sugar.

However, people with diabetes either don’t produce enough insulin, or it become less effective. This causes excess sugar to stay in our blood, leading to serious health problems.

Last month, Diabetes Canada and Walmart Canada announced a new partnership to raise diabetes awareness. According to Walmart:

“11.7 million Canadians (are) living with diabetes or prediabetes … Diabetes is known to reduce lifespan and people with the disease are more likely to be hospitalized for amputations, kidney failure, heart attacks, strokes, heart failure, and experience vision loss.”

What types of diabetes are there?

There are three types of diabetes, only two of which apply to seniors:

Type 1 diabetes

“Type 1 diabetes is thought to be caused by an autoimmune reaction (the body attacks itself by mistake) that stops your body from making insulin … If you have type 1 diabetes, you’ll need to take insulin every day.”

Type 2 diabetes

“With type 2 diabetes, your body doesn’t use insulin well and can’t keep blood sugar at normal levels. About 90-95% of people with diabetes have type 2 (which) can be prevented or delayed with healthy lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, eating healthy food, and being active.”

What is pre-diabetes?

As the name suggests, this is a stage before type 2 diabetes. Pre-diabetics have higher than normal blood sugar levels, and many people simply don’t know they even have it.

Do I have diabetes?

You may already be showing the early signs of diabetes without realising it. Research from the European Association for the Study of Diabetes involving 27,000 adults suggests that:

“People who develop type 2 diabetes may show early warning signs of the disease more than 10 years before their diagnosis.”

If you don’t know the signs, you are not alone. Research suggests that less than 50% of Canadians can identify at least half of the early warning signs of diabetes.

Warning signs of diabetes

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, early signs of diabetes in seniors may include:

  • being thirsty more than usual
  • frequent need to urinate
  • changes in your weight (either gain or loss)
  • extreme fatigue or loss of energy
  • blurry vision
  • cuts and bruises that heal slowly
  • frequent infections
  • tingling or numbness in your hands and feet
Diabetes signs in the elderly

Amongst older seniors, these symptoms may change, according to the Diabetes Care Community:

“Elderly people who are at risk of developing diabetes, or who have already developed the disease, may not show the common symptoms of thirst or increased urination. The most common symptoms of diabetes in the elderly are dehydration, dry eyes and mouth and confusion.”

In addition, elderly people are more at risk of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar level) which can make them irritable, unable to concentrate, and suffer from disturbed sleep. This is important too look out for because:

“Some symptoms of low blood glucose (sugar), such as confusion and disorientation, can be mistaken for other age-related conditions, such as dementia.”

Tests for diabetes

If you are concerned you might be diabetic, consult your doctor for a blood test which may measure your glycated hemoglobin (A1C) levels. This type of blood test is far more accurate that over the counter blood testing kits, which can give only a snapshot of your blood sugar levels at that particular moment in time.

Lowering your risk of developing type 2 diabetes

The good news is that you can lower your risk of getting type 2 diabetes with lifestyle changes. If you are a healthy weight, exercise, and eat a healthy balanced diet, that will help control the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Reducing your daily intake of sugar is also important, as is giving up smoking, and actions to maintain a normal blood pressure.

The really good news is that, according to research from the University of Cambridge UK, if you can reduce your body weight by just 10%, you can actually reverse type 2 diabetes, aka go into remission. As the research study’s leader Hajira Dambha-Miller, PhD, explained:

“We’ve known for some time now that it’s possible to send diabetes into remission using fairly drastic measures such as intensive weight loss programs and extreme calorie restriction. These interventions can be very challenging to individuals and difficult to achieve. But our results suggest that it may be possible to get rid of diabetes, for at least 5 years, with a more modest weight loss of 10 percent. This will be more motivating and hence more achievable for many people.”

Always consult your doctor before undertaking any dietary changes or altering your calorific intake, especially if you are on medications.

Diabetes and older seniors

Managing diabetes in older seniors requires a different approach, according to the Diabetes Canada Clinical Practice Guidelines Expert Committee:

“No two older people are alike and every older person with diabetes needs a customized diabetes care plan. What works for 1 individual may not be the best course of treatment for another. Some older people are healthy and can manage their diabetes on their own, while others may have 1 or more diabetes complications. Others may be frail, have memory loss and/or have several chronic diseases in addition to diabetes.”

That’s why it’s important to consult your doctor and local diabetes care team so you get the best care plan for you.

Diabetic foot care for seniors

One of the effects of type 2 diabetes is nerve damage, which can result in loss of feeling in your feet. As a result, you may not notice if your feet are cut, bruised or your shoes are rubbing your skin.

That’s where our caregiver team can help, offering regular checks on your feet as part of a personal care plan. As part of regular bathing and washing, your caregiver can monitor your feet, ensure they are clean and dry after every shower, and apply a moisturizing cream if required. If your caregiver is concerned about your feet, they can advise you to seek medical attention or treatment at a specialist foot clinic.

Homecare and diabetes care

Every day, nearly 9% of Canadians live with diabetes, managing their condition so they can enjoy life to the full. At Vytality at Home, we can support you with home care services that help you manage the challenges of living with diabetes.

As part of regular homecare visits, our caregivers can help with:

  • healthy meal planning and preparation
  • topping up drinks to ensure you stay hydrated
  • encouraging and facilitating an active lifestyle including outing and walks
  • monitoring and maintaining foot hygiene and health
  • looking out for signs of hypoglycaemia in your loved ones such as confusion, headaches, self-care difficulties, loss of appetite, and unusual changes in behaviour
  • monitoring blood glucose and administering medications when required
Looking for homecare for a senior with diabetes?

We’re here to help:

539, 5940 Macleod Trail SWCalgary, AB