Aging & Health A to Z
Unique to Older Adults
This section provides information to help older adults and their caregivers consider their disease or condition in conjunction with other health issues.
As older adults live longer, they may have more than one chronic disease. Or, they may have a health problem that can lead to another condition or injury if not properly managed. The older adult may also experience healthcare in various settings, such as the hospital, assisted living facility, or at home. These situations can affect the health and function of the older adult and therefore require careful management to ensure proper care and improve or maintain quality of life.
Diabetes and Other Conditions
Having high levels of glucose (sugar) in your bloodstream puts you at risk for a variety of other health issues. That can make diabetes an especially challenging disease for older adults to manage. Having diabetes increases the chances of having heart attacks, strokes, or kidney or eye problems. And if you have diabetes, it is likely that you may be treated for other health problems, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or arthritis.
When you know what to expect, you can often prevent or limit the impact these problems can have on your life. Your healthcare provider will probably ask you about these conditions, or order tests to see if you have any of their signs. Don’t hesitate to discuss any symptoms you may experience, even if they seem minor to you.
If you have diabetes, it is likely that your healthcare provider is also treating you for other problems. That means you could be taking several different medications, which can put you at risk for medication interactions.
Here’s how to steer clear of problems:
- Make a list of all your medications and their dosages. Make sure you include any vitamins, herbs, over-the-counter medicines, or other dietary supplements you take. It is important that you keep this with you at all times, especially in the case of a medical emergency.
- When you visit your healthcare provider, bring your actual medications with you. This way they can be sure the directions on the bottles are up-to-date.
- Make sure you know why you are taking each medicine, how and when to take it, and what the common side effects are.
- If possible, have all your prescriptions filled at the same pharmacy. This way, your pharmacist can alert you if the medications you are prescribed could interact with each other.
- Read the information that comes with your medications. Ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist if you have questions.
For reasons we don’t fully understand, older adults who have diabetes are at risk for depression. In fact, as many as a third of all people with diabetes may experience depression. Yet, only 25 to 50 percent of diabetic patients are formally diagnosed with depression. You might not take depression seriously. You may think that it’s “just the blues,” or that it’s not important enough to discuss with your healthcare provider. But depression can interfere with your ability to enjoy life, as well as your ability to watch and control your diabetes. So it is important to recognize the signs of depression and treat it as you would any illness. It is normal to feel grief after a loss, or have occasional days of “feeling blue.” But when you feel sad or hopeless for more than a couple of weeks, it’s time to get help.
There are specific signs of depression to look out for. These include having trouble sleeping, concentrating, or remembering, feeling more tired than usual, having sudden weight gain or loss, or losing pleasure in doing things you usually enjoy. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, talk with your healthcare provider. Treatment can help you feel better pretty quickly. The earlier depression is treated, the better.
Problems with memory and brain function can be more common in older people with diabetes. Your healthcare provider may do some tests to check for memory loss. Be sure to let your provider know if you experience memory problems, if others have told you they’re concerned about your memory, or if you’re having trouble managing any of your daily activities (for example, balancing your checkbook or taking your medications).
Urinary Incontinence (Loss of Bladder Control)
Older women with diabetes are at increased risk for urinary incontinence, which is a common condition among older women. In fact, nearly 70% of all women experience problems from time to time, so there’s no need to feel embarrassed if it happens to you. The good news is that there are simple approaches to manage incontinence. Your healthcare provider can help find a treatment that works for you. Be sure to discuss any bladder control problems you experience so you can get the help you need.
Many factors put older adults with diabetes at greater risk of falling. These include medication side effects, loss of feeling in the legs or feet, low blood sugar, or poor vision. Home factors such as poor lighting and clutter can also contribute to falls. Be sure to let your healthcare provider know if you’ve had a fall.
Diabetes can lead to pain caused by poor circulation or nerve damage. This can be a very difficult by-product of diabetes to deal with. Therefore, it’s very important to tell your healthcare provider about any pain you may be feeling, especially if it gets in the way of your daily activities or quality of life. Never let pain go untreated. And don’t feel like you’re complaining or bothering your healthcare provider when you bring it up.
Updated: January 2018
Posted: March 2012