Living with diabetes: Over-60s talk about how they manage and what causes issues for them

Jul 15, 2022
National Diabetes Awareness Week (10 July – 16 July) is focused on the stigma associated with diabetes and encouraging people with the disease to discuss their diagnosis. Source: Getty Images.

Diabetes presents a considerable challenge for the nation’s health system, with an estimated $3 billion spent on treating diabetes nationally and 1.3 million Australians living with the condition, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

Diabetes is a chronic condition marked by high levels of glucose in the blood. It is caused either by the body’s inability to produce insulin (a hormone that keeps blood glucose levels in range) or by the body being unable to use insulin effectively, or a combination of both.

 

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Symptoms of diabetes can include unexplained weight gain (type 2), frequent urination, feeling thirstier than usual, blurred vision, dizziness and leg cramps. Often these symptoms can be attributed to the signs of ageing but given that almost 1 in 5 Australians aged 80-84 were living with diabetes in 2020, 30 times higher than those aged under 40, it becomes crucial for older Australians to not only be aware of the symptoms but also how to manage the condition.

Even though the condition can often be effectively managed, diabetes can cause potential health complications that sufferers need to be aware of including stroke, heart attack, blindness and limb amputation.

AIHW spokesperson Richard Juckes said, “diabetes increases the risk of health complications.”

“It is also frequently associated with other chronic health conditions,” Juckes said.

Given the potential complications associated with diabetes and the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes among older Australians, Blooms The Chemist Pharmacist and Diabetes Expert Claire Ross suggests sufferers “have regular reviews with their GP and their diabetes educator.”

“Keep taking their prescribed medications and if they are having any issues with any medications, speak to their pharmacist. Maintain a healthy diet and active lifestyle. Have their GP create a team care arrangement plan so they have scheduled reviews with dieticians, exercise physiologists, podiatrists and optometrists,” she said.

Ross also highlighted some of the risk factors for those over 65s should be aware of that could increase their risk of developing diabetes.

“Over 65 yo, their metabolism slows down,” she said.

“Genetics and time catch up with our sedentary and dietary lifestyle choices are risk factors for diabetes. Those who have hypertension and High Cholesterol levels are also more likely to get diabetes.”

Although the risk of developing diabetes can increase with age, Ross details some preventative measures that can be taken to reduce the risk.

“Adapt to a more active, healthier eating lifestyle. For some, their genetics pre-disposes them of getting diabetes therefore making small changes sooner can at times make all the difference.

“Any extra movement throughout the day and being less sedentary can make a huge long-term impact. Small examples: Taking the stairs instead of the lift, parking further away and walking to work.

“Reducing sugar and fat dietary intake will improve cholesterol levels, and heart health and minimise Diabetes-related complications.”

As if the challenges diabetes’ sufferers contend with weren’t enough a recent study from the Australian Centre for Behavioural Research in Diabetes found that four out of five people living with diabetes have experienced some sort of stigma around their condition.

Ross provides a possible explanation as to the stigma connected to a diabetes diagnosis.

“The belief is that Diabetes is 100% due to an unhealthy lifestyle and there is a lot of misinformation on social media. Genetics also play a great role, particularly with Type 1 and Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in adults. Education and more public awareness will overcome this.”

Given that the theme of this year’s National Diabetes Awareness Week (10 July – 16 July) is focused on the stigma associated with diabetes and encouraging people with the disease to discuss their diagnosis, Starts at 60 decided to start their own discussion and invite the Starts at 60 community to share their own experiences with diabetes and how they manage the condition in effort to break down that stigma.

Jan* was diagnosed with diabetes 12 years ago and said that “until 7 months ago despite taking meds my numbers were not good.”

“I then started a low carb diet, drink water all day long and exercise as best I can. My numbers are consistently good and my last A1C dropped 12 points. Have also lost 30lbs. I’m in UK so readings are different for me,” she said.

Elsie* swears by “no soft drink, no juice and eating fruit vegetables and no takaway. Walking is good, diet controlled for 15 years.”

Simon* said he has “been type 2 since 2007. I have a doctor’s blood test once a year. I control type 2 by diet and exercise.”

Although some have found success in managing their diabetes with exercise and diet, for others it hasn’t been as easy.

Yvonne* revealed that diabetes has been a “miserable existence for me as I enjoy food. I love sugar and salt too.”

“Have had type 2 for about 12 years. Kept under control for 10 of those years until covid. Think stress plays a huge part too,” Yvonne said.

Erlinda* said although she was “was good at lowering it, for some reason I can’t bring it down to the level my GP wants it to be.

“She’s trying her hardest for me to manage it. I try to do the right thing. I suppose I just had to try to manage.”

The challenges of diabetes can be overwhelming enough without the added negative psychological, behavioural and physical consequences as well as the feeling of social judgement and potential guilt that can come with the diagnosis.

Those who suffer from diabetes are encouraged to reach out for help and support to manage their condition. Those who require some additional support can call Diabetes Australia on 1800 177 055.

Alternatively, you can also contact:

 

 

*last names removed for privacy

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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