Understanding and Tending to Diabetes in Seniors

Diabetes, and the accompanying symptoms that go with it, impact an astonishing number of Canadians of a diverse age range across various backgrounds. It is estimated that 1 in 3 Canadians are currently living with diabetes or prediabetes. Unfortunately, despite the prevalence of the disease, less than half of Canadians are able to identify the associated symptoms and signs.

Seniors and Diabetes

When it comes to seniors, the difficulties that accompany diabetes can be even more challenging to deal with because of the more delicate state of overall health that many seniors experience in older age.

To make sure all needs are being appropriately met and tended to, it is important that the caregivers and loved ones of seniors with diabetes become more educated about the disease. This includes how it alters physiology and lifestyle, and what measures can be taken to establish a better quality of life for seniors dealing with the realities of diabetes.

Types of Diabetes

Diabetes mellitus refers to a set of metabolic diseases that generate problems with blood sugar, because levels of insulin created or used within the body are inadequate. This deficiency can either come from insufficient production of insulin in the body, or because the body’s cells are not able to appropriately respond to and utilize the insulin being produced.

The following is some basic information concerning diabetes to offer a fundamental understanding of the disease.

Type 1 Diabetes

This type of diabetes was formerly referred to as juvenile or insulin-dependent diabetes, and the people who experience type 1 are most often children, teens, or adults below the age of 35. With type 1 diabetes, the body produces no insulin whatsoever and people with type 1 will require insulin pumps or injections throughout the duration of their lives to supplement the insulin that is not naturally being produced by the body.

Type 2 Diabetes

Formerly referred to as adult-onset or non-insulin-dependent diabetes, type 2 causes the pancreas to produce a reduced amount of insulin, or leads to the body being unable to properly use the insulin that is available. More common in older adults, type 2 is especially prevalent in people who are inactive, overweight, have a poor diet, or have a family history of diabetes. It is this type of diabetes that is known to impact the elderly as lower levels of physical activity, the associated weight gain, and a potentially weaker state of general health make them more vulnerable to developing the disease.


Hyperglycemia refers to an excess amount of glucose in the blood-stream which typically occurs as a direct result of the insulin deficiencies associated with diabetes. Hyperglycemia can cause symptoms such as constant hunger, increased levels of thirst, and more frequent urination.


Hypoglycemia is characterized by an insufficient amount of glucose in the blood-stream. This may be experienced by individuals with diabetes, either as a result of taking an excess of insulin or other medication, failing to consume enough food, or being more active than usual.

Tending to Diabetes

The symptoms of diabetes can be widespread and can alter seniors’ lifestyles in a variety of ways. While diabetes cannot be cured, meeting with a healthcare professional to talk about an appropriate healthcare, medication, and lifestyle regime offers the opportunity to help keep symptoms under control and manageable. Caregivers of seniors with diabetes can also help encourage behaviours, routines, and support systems to foster a better quality of life to keep seniors as healthy as possible.

  • Eat Well: The fact that diabetes impacts the body’s capacity to work with glucose means that there are some dietary considerations that need to be met to help promote better health for seniors with diabetes. Some people will need to adjust their eating habits to involve more fruit and vegetables, reduce refined sugar intake, and manage carbohydrate consumption, among other things. Consult with a healthcare professional to determine what dietary alterations will be the most helpful.
  • Exercise: Exercise is always helpful for keeping the body in good shape, but it is especially important for seniors with diabetes. Exercise helps facilitate the proper use of glucose within the body, overall physical fitness, weight management, and self-confidence.
  • Foot Care: Foot health is especially important for diabetics, and seniors might need some support in this area, particularly if they struggle with mobility. Diabetes can result in loss of feeling in the feet, which means problems with the feet often go unnoticed. For this reason, feet should be checked on a regular basis for sores, injuries, infections, and other potential problems.
  • See a Healthcare Professional: Make sure that seniors maintain an ongoing and consistent relationship with healthcare professionals who can recommend treatments, medications, and lifestyle adjustments. Ongoing assessments help determine the effectiveness of current treatments and practices to make appropriate alterations as necessary.
  • Seek Support: Many people find comfort in knowing that there are other people who have similar experiences to share points of view, questions, and concerns. Seniors may benefit from seeking out support groups that can deliver a sense of community in a safe and comfortable setting.
  • Cut Out Bad Habits: Encouraging seniors to stop unhealthy habits such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can help protect them from developing further health complications, such as nerve damage or heart problems. The fewer bad habits and more healthy choices that seniors engage in contributes to a longer and healthier existence.

Facing the realities that come along with diabetes can be challenging, but a variety of helpful options and choices are available to help seniors and their caregivers access opportunities to reduce the impact of diabetes on everyday life. Resources are available in Kitchener, Waterloo, and Cambridge to help seniors make responsible and healthy choices, become more informed about their condition, and pursue a more healthy and happy lifestyle.

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