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A To-Do List for Managing Type 2 Diabetes

Older adults who are newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes often wonder: what are the best ways to manage the disease?

Robert Schreiber, MD, chief medical officer at Hebrew SeniorLife, offers these thoughts:

While the treatment of any disease should be tailored to a patient's specific medical needs, the management of goals for everyone who has diabetes are the same, regardless of their age - enhancing quality of life and reducing complications.

Diabetes is a chronic disease that prevents the body from producing or properly using insulin, a hormone required to convert sugar, starches and other foods into energy needed for daily life. People with diabetes have too much glucose, a form or sugar, in their blood. As a result they may suffer from such symptoms as extreme hunger or thirst, frequent urination, fatigue, and vision difficulties. In addition, they are at an increased risk for heart disease, stroke and kidney disease, among other serious complications.

More than half of the 16 million Americans living with diabetes are over the age of 60. The disease can exacerbate medical conditions such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol that are more common in seniors. Those who suffer from cognitive and/or physical impairments may find it harder to stick to a treatment plan.

Key steps for managing diabetes include:

  • Monitoring blood glucose levels regularly. This helps patients know how much food to eat, how much exercise to get, and how much medication, including insulin, to take. Monitoring also helps them feel more in control of their disease.

  • Maintaining a well-balanced diet. A dietitian can design a personalized meal plan to help control blood glucose levels.

  • Exercising regularly. Older adults can improve their glucose levels if they get 30 minutes of exercise on most days of the week.

  • Taking medications. Both oral and injectable drugs are essential to controlling diabetes and should be taken exactly as the doctor prescribes.

  • Losing weight. Nearly 90 percent of diabetics are overweight; studies have shown that weight loss is an essential element in controlling blood glucose levels.

  • Checking feet daily. Patients with diabetic neuropathy (severe nerve damage) may not feel cuts, sores and blisters. Because people with diabetes heal more slowly, they face a greater risk of infection.

  • Keeping doctor appointments. The primary care physician and endocrinologist (a diabetes specialist) need to see patients on a regular basis in case changes in the disease require adjusting treatment and management plans. In addition, people with diabetes should see an eye doctor annually and a dentist every six months.

Hebrew SeniorLife offers diabetes and chronic disease self-management programs for older adults in communities across the state. Call 617-363-8319.

Above content provided by Hebrew SeniorLife in partnership with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Posted July 2012

Contact Information

Division of Gerontology
Department of Medicine
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Lowry Medical Office Building #1B (West Campus)
110 Francis Street
Boston, MA 02215

Contact Information

Hebrew Senior Life
1200 Centre Street
Boston, MA 02131