older man checking blood sugarDiabetes is on the rise for adults over the age of sixty-five. In fact, elderly adults – over the age of sixty-five – are more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than any other age group. Due to this fact, it is important to understand exactly the signs of diabetes and prediabetes, and how to care for the older adult once they are diagnosed.

Studies show that more than 25% of individuals over the age of sixty-five have diabetes. In addition, over half of adults in this age group have prediabetes. As the baby-boomers age, this epidemic will only increase the rates of diabetes. Elderly statistics will rise with this increase.


Prediabetes is a gray area between normal blood sugar levels and full blown diabetes. Typically at this stage, a person will have no symptoms or no clear symptoms of diabetes and may not even be aware something is wrong.

While in this stage, an individual will have some of the markers for diabetes but not all of them. They may even be experiencing some of the negative side effects without realizing it. Prediabetes does not turn into full diabetes in all patients, but it can typically within ten years’ time. For some, early treatment can stop the advance. Changes in lifestyle habits such as diet and exercise can reverse the effects at this point.

Diabetes Complications

Diabetes is a very serious disease as it can lead to other life-threatening illnesses. High blood pressure often comes with diabetes. Elderly people can have many complications including strokes and heart attacks. Also, the pressure puts strain on the eyes which leads to eye problems.

Kidney disease and kidney failure as well can result from uncorrected diabetes. Elderly patients will find that their smaller blood vessels are being damaged. This damage will hinder the kidneys ability to function properly and can end to total kidney failure. With controlled levels of blood glucose levels, the risk can be mitigated.

Uncontrolled diabetes can also damage the nervous system. This can have wide-ranging effects including erectile dysfunction and issues with the digestion system. One of the most serious effects is damage to the nerves in the body’s extremities.

Peripheral neuropathy is caused by damage to the nerves in the arms, hands, legs, and feet. When the nerves are damaged, an older adult may have a loss of feeling in the extremity or mild pain or tingling. When there is a loss of feeling, especially in the foot region, injuries can go unnoticed.

This can lead to serious infections and in extreme cases amputations. In fact, an older adult with diabetes is twenty-five times more likely to have an amputation than an individual without diabetes.

Additional Complications of Diabetes in the Elderly

Older adults with diabetes can have additional complications that should be watched for. These include depression, falling, and vision problems. In fact, most if not all older adults with diabetes will develop vision issues which will lead to impaired vision. In worse cases, impaired vision can end with blindness.

Other complications include urinary incontinence, memory problems, and pain. It is important to determine the root causes of these complications as they can be signs of other illnesses.

Care Plan for Older Adults with Diabetes

It is imperative to have an older adult checked for diabetes on a regular basis. This will help determine if they have prediabetes or diabetes. Then a treatment plan can be put into place to reduce serious consequences of diabetes. Elderly guidelines have been established in these treatment plans. Once diagnosed, the following steps should be taken to keep the older adult as healthy as possible:

  • Make regular doctor visits to monitor blood sugar levels.
  • Examine feet on a regular basis for injury.
  • Educate yourself and the patient on what to expect and look for.
  • Monitor daily blood sugar levels with at home kits.
  • Accept support – join a diabetes support group.
  • Introduce exercise at a level the patient can perform.
  • Eat a balanced, low-carb healthy diet.
  • Let the older adult know they can talk about what is happening to them.

There is no getting around the fact that a diabetes diagnosis is a life changing event. That being said, diabetes can be controlled and a healthy, fulfilling life can be lived. It just takes a little work and knowledge.

What’s the most important thing in your diabetes care plan? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

For more information, please review our Diabetes Resources.

  • Lainey Bruhn

    I also wanted to inform you that hearing loss is associated with Diabetes. Hearing evaluations should be a part of the diabetes care. This article summarizes the information about hearing loss and diabetes, however there is much more than just this.


    Dr. Lainey Bruhn
    Doctor of Audiology

  • http://www.nei.nih.gov Neyal Ammary-Risch

    Eye pressure is not the only thing that affects that eye health of people with diabetes. Diabetic retinopathy can develop. It occurs when diabetes damages the tiny blood vessels inside the retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. A healthy retina is necessary for good vision. One important thing to note is the diabetic eye disease (a group of complications from diabetes which include cataract, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy) do not have symptoms in their early stages. A person with diabetes may have diabetic eye disease and now know it until he or she begins to notice changes in their vision. The good news is that diabetic eye disease can be detected early through a comprehensive dilated eye exam. People with diabetes should have one at least once a year to protect their vision. With early detection, treatment and appropriate follow-up care, people with diabetes can prevent vision loss from diabetes.