Diabetes has two types of risks - controllable and uncontrollable. Risks a person cannot control are age, race, ethnicity, or a family history of diabetes.  

Almost 42% of adult Americans with diabetes are 65 years of age or older with an almost even split between men and women. Diabetes is more common in minority groups.  After adjusting for population age differences, Native Americans are twice as likely, non-Hispanic blacks 1.6, Hispanics 1.7, and Asian Americans are 1.2 times as likely to have diabetes as non-Hispanic whites. 

Controllable Risk Factors

  • Overweight or obesity
  • Fat in the middle of the body with waist measurements higher than 35 inches in women and 40 inches in men
  • A high-fat diet or high alcohol consumption
  • High cholesterol or blood pressure
  • Inflammation (the body’s response to healing, like infections, injuries, poisons, or stress)
  • Stress
  • Lack of exercise
  • Certain medications. For example, steroids, anti-psychotics, heart disease drugs

Increased Risks for Other Health Problems

Over time, diabetes increases the risk of death and disability. High levels of blood sugar can damage nerves and small blood vessels.  This increases the risk of serious health problems for older adults, including:

  • Heart disease, such as heart attacks
  • Eye problems, including vision loss
  • Kidney disease
  • Poor blood circulation, which can cause other issues, including amputations (for example, surgically removing feet)
  • Nerve problems, such as tingling or numbness in feet and hands
  • Cognitive (thinking and memory) problems
  • Depression


Last Updated April 2023

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