How to Take Care of Elderly Parents with Diabetes

Caring for Elderly Parents

October 25, 2021
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Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that over 12 million seniors over the age of 65 in the US are diagnosed with diabetes. It is a condition that affects people of all ages and becomes more difficult to live with the older you are. Whether your aging parent is newly diagnosed or has been living with diabetes for years, it is important to learn how to care for them as they grow old.

Having diabetes as a senior increases the risk of developing more comorbidities, which are often medical conditions that lead to premature death. Examples include kidney failure, retinopathy, lower extremity amputation, or cardiovascular disease. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) reports that over 9% of Americans have some type of diabetes.

What are common types of diabetes in old age?

There are 2 types of diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is more common in the elderly. Diabetes does not have to worsen with age, as long as you know how to properly manage it.  Here is a brief explanation of the different types of diabetes.

Type 1, also known as juvenile diabetes, can occur at any age. With type 1 diabetes, the body stops insulin production, which means that the person cannot absorb glucose from the bloodstream to the body’s cells. In the U.S., about 40,000 people are diagnosed with type 1 annually.

Type 2 diabetes can be treated with exercise and a change to a healthy diet. Type 2 is caused when blood sugar levels surge higher than their normal state, and the pancreas cannot make enough insulin to control it. Oral treatment through pills like metformin are available for type 2 diabetes. It also requires less blood work than type 1.


Lifestyle Changes for Living with Diabetes

One of the common pre-conditions for developing diabetes as an adult is obesity. It is very difficult to break the habit of overeating or overindulging in calorie-heavy foods, especially if it is a lifelong habit. Your parent may feel offended if you ask them to change their eating habits completely. Here are some tips for asking them to change their diet:

  • Sympathize with them and bring up the topic lightly
  • Emotional ties to food may be one of the hardest things to overcome and is not an easy journey
  • Add an extra helping of vegetables to their meal instead of switching over to a completely different diet
  • Slowly, these changes will help them realize that they are capable of eating better
  • Adding one component of healthy eating each week will slowly build up
  • You will have your parents on a diabetes-friendly diet without the stress of changing their diet all at once

Benefits of Exercise When Living with Diabetes

Physical activity can help your parent lose weight and contribute to a healthier lifestyle. Any form of exercise lowers blood sugar. The American Diabetes Association recommends exercises like these for older adults living with diabetes:

  • Aerobic exercise such as walking or swimming
  • Strength training like using weights or resistance bands
  • Flexibility exercises such as yoga or Pilates
  • General daily activity like taking the stairs instead of the elevator

Educate Your Parents

It is important for older adults living with diabetes to learn to adjust their eating habits, exercising schedule and lifestyle to their symptoms. Try teaching your parents about the signs and symptoms of diabetes and how to cope with them. You will have peace of mind knowing that they are able to identify triggers, and they will have more self-confidence. Let your parent know what health conditions are common among people who are diabetic. You can mention that people who are overweight often cannot regulate blood glucose control and have high blood pressure.

  • Make sure your parents know which medications to take and when to take them
  • Talk to them so that they know what each medication is for and why it is important that they have them
  • You can encourage them by reminding them that they will be able to live independently in the comfort of their home for longer
  • It will give you peace of mind and also allow them to take back their freedom. 

Monitor your parents or hire a temporary companion to help. If you struggle to prepare healthy meals for your parent, or do not trust them to eat healthily on their own, you can also find companions or cooks to help with weekly meal preparations. Find professionals that are available to hire for temporary help in your area on apps like Caremada.


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