Diabetes in Older Adults: A Growing Population with Special Challenges



With diabetes cases doubling in just 15 years, many healthcare professionals are warning that the UK is heading for an obesity crisis and that more and more members of the elderly community will suffer from the ill effects of the condition.

Diabetes is a disease which sees the body’s ability to produce or respond to the hormone insulin impaired. This results in abnormal metabolism of carbohydrates and elevated levels of glucose in the blood and urine. Diabetes UK has reported that in 2004/05, the number of people diagnosed with diabetes was 2.1 million. By 2019/20, this number had skyrocketed to around 4.1 million and could reach as many as 5.5 million by 2030.

With a poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle to blame for the condition combined with an increasingly aged population, it’s clear that more and more people will require specialist care from those with a good understanding of the condition.

Diabetes in the elderly

Although diabetes is becoming increasingly common in members of the UK population, the symptoms experienced by elderly sufferers mean that it is critical that adequate care is found as soon as possible.

With blindness, a lack of recognition of thirst, frequent urination and impaired cognitive function all symptoms of diabetes, sufferers require additional care to help them to lead happy and healthy lives.

For many family members, care responsibilities can prove to be too much. Diabetes can cause a multitude of complications, so finding appropriate care is essential to safeguard the wellbeing of the sufferer and their loved ones.

An increased risk of vascular dementia

Sadly, diabetes also carries a heightened risk of developing vascular dementia, a condition caused by a lack of oxygen and nutrient carrying blood to the brain. This in turn leads to problems with reasoning, planning, judgment and memory.

“People with dementia may be unable to recognise the symptoms associated with hyperglycaemia . The presence of infections such as thrush or urinary tract infections may be the only sign that the person has diabetes. Repeated requests for drinks or to be taken to the toilet may be mis-interpreted by carers as forgetfulness in the person with dementia. The likelihood of having co-morbid conditions may add to the complexity of managing such individuals and can increase the risk of hospitalisation.” TREND Diabetes

This in itself is cause for specialist care either at home or within a care home setting as it poses yet another set of challenges to the individual’s safety and overall wellbeing. It is important that anyone who helps to care for a friend or family member with diabetes can also recognise the signs of a stroke and vascular dementia and knows how to act quickly to minimise harm.

Reducing the risk of diabetes

To help reduce the risk of developing diabetes in older people, a healthy diet with plenty of exercise is key.

Other medical advice states that quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy weight and reducing blood pressure can also fend off diabetes as we get older. In short, it’s a good idea to stay as healthy and active as possible as those birthdays pass by to reduce your risk factors.

Living well with diabetes, dementia and other conditions

Research shows that diabetes can increase the risk of developing both Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. Ernie has shared his experience of managing dementia and diabetes, this  Diabetes Awareness Week 2021

“You’ve got to learn to live with diabetes, like I am now with my dementia. I have got a list of things that are wrong with me. I could let them control me and feel self-pity, but I prefer to say ‘well, I’ve got to try my best to cope with it and get on and enjoy my life”

Each person is an individual

Are you living with diabetes and dementia, or do you support / care for  someone who is? Our in-house nurse specialist is available for advice and guidance on clients with complex health conditions and our dementia expert provides advice on care plans, and can also offer training and support to our carers and our clients’ families.