Aging & Health A to Z
Basic Facts & Information
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes develops when the amount of sugar in your blood becomes too high. This is either because your body doesn’t make enough insulin (type 1 diabetes), or because your body doesn’t respond to the insulin it makes (type 2 diabetes).
When your body digests food, it converts much of it into glucose. Glucose is a sugar that your body’s cells need for energy. The hormone insulin helps your body use glucose, and also helps maintain healthy blood levels of glucose. When your body produces too little insulin, or can’t respond to it, glucose tends to remain in your bloodstream, instead of going into your cells.
The Most Common Types of Diabetes
Type 1 Diabetes
In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas does not make enough insulin. Therefore, people with type 1 diabetes must take insulin injections or use an insulin pump to control their blood sugar. Type 1 diabetes usually occurs in children and young adults. However, it can occur in older ages as well. Only 5 to 10 percent of people with diabetes have type 1. This form of diabetes cannot be prevented.
Type 2 Diabetes
In type 2 diabetes, your pancreas can’t produce enough insulin, or your cells can’t use insulin properly (insulin resistance). Older adults are especially likely to develop type 2 diabetes. When you age, your body is less able to process sugars. What’s more, being overweight makes your chances of developing type 2 diabetes extremely high. Most people can prevent or control type 2 diabetes by eating a healthy diet and by being physically active.
What are Pre-diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome?
In pre-diabetes, your glucose levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be called diabetes. Pre-diabetes increases your risk for developing type 2 diabetes and other problems, including heart disease. Over 57 million people have pre-diabetes. Often, pre-diabetes occurs along with other warning symptoms, such as high blood pressure, cholesterol problems, and other risk factors for heart disease and type 2 diabetes. This group of symptoms is called “metabolic syndrome.”
Here’s the good news: You can prevent or delay getting type 2 diabetes and lower your risk for heart disease and other problems, by losing weight and increasing your level of physical activity.
How Common is Diabetes?
More than 40% of all cases of diabetes in the US occur in people aged 65 and older. Type 2 diabetes is one of the most common chronic diseases of aging. It develops in up to one in five older adults.
Older adults with diabetes are at higher risk for incontinence, falls, frailty, cognitive impairment, and depressive symptoms. They are also more likely to have a disability that interferes with day-to-day activities, including problems with mobility. But there are adults with diabetes who are active and have few limitations. A lot depends on the steps you take. Diabetes is a disease where the patient or caregiver has the primary responsibility for managing and controlling it.
Updated: January 2018
Posted: March 2012