As we age: Monitoring health of elderly important

Keep an eye out for diabetes or your lifestyle will pay

Like blood pressure, there is another stealth disease that is common for the elderly – diabetes.

It, too, can wreak havoc on long-term health if left undetected and untreated.

There are two basic categories of diabetes, Type 1, caused by an autoimmune response to insulin production and generally inherited, or Type 2 which, while still having a genetic component, is also affected by lifestyle, particularly obesity and smoking.

In Canada, more than two million people have diabetes, with 90 per cent, having Type 2 and 10 per cent having Type 1. Rates of Type 2 diabetes have risen in a parallel pattern with the rise in obesity, and of course, an aging population in general. Age is also a factor and the highest rate of diabetes in adult populations tops out at close to 30 per cent in the over-70 age group.

So, if we could stay young and stay thin, diabetes might not be something we’d need to worry about but we all know differently. We age and we thicken. Diabetes can begin to sneak up on us and without detection can begin to damage arteries, eyes, kidneys and potential circulatory issues that lead to lower limb amputations.

Symptoms of diabetes most commonly include constant thirst, frequent urination and constant hunger. It’s pretty easy for an elderly person to think they simply need to drink more, naturally have to urinate more, and then end up eating more leading to increased weight issues. It can become a circular path to greater health risks.

Those who are most at risk are often those living alone, particularly if they are not able to exercise much or are overweight.  Unable to get out without the assistance of others, they often fail to have regular check-ups and may go for years with an undiagnosed case of diabetes.  But they are certainly not the only ones who can go undiagnosed.  It’s important that family help monitor the likelihood of diabetes in any elderly relative.

While treatment for diabetes is relatively simple, it must first be diagnosed and then the treatment must be consistently applied.  A young person with diabetes can establish a routine relatively quickly, but someone who is older might struggle with such a routine. Support is needed but not always available to the extent necessary.

Monitoring the health of the elderly, and then monitoring treatment when necessary, is not always easy, but it’s an important role that families have to consider.

The earlier that stealth diseases are diagnosed and treated, the better.

Graham Hookey writes on education, parenting and elder care (ghookey@yahoo.com).