Diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death in the United States with over nine percent of the population positively diagnosed with the disease. Of this overall percent, the percentage of seniors age 65 and older diagnosed with diabetes is alarmingly high at 25.9 percent or 11.8 million seniors.
Even more alarming is the fact that half of all seniors age 65 and older suffer from prediabetes, which means that blood-glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes. People with prediabetes are at an increased risk for developing Type 2 diabetes and for heart disease and stroke.
Diabetes and prediabetes are very serious conditions that require attention to ensure early diagnosis and prevention methods. If left untreated, diabetics can suffer from kidney damage, blindness, hearing impairment, amputation, stroke, heart disease and eventually death.
However, the good news is that because so many Americans suffer from diabetes or are at risk for it, research and government programs such as the CDC are working and conducting research to find cures, prevention methods, solutions and support. In the 1990's, the National Institute of Health (NIH) conducted a large national clinical trial among 1,000 overweight adults at risk for Type 2 diabetes. After three years of the program, which was aimed at changing lifestyle habits - particularly exercise and diet - and promoting weight loss, participants lowered their risk of diabetes by 58 percent. Even more significant, those aged 60 and older had a 71 percent reduced risk.
These results are particularly heartening because they show that taking a proactive approach with lifestyle changes and weight loss can significantly lower if not eliminate the risk for diabetes. This knowledge, coupled with early detection practices could be enough to significantly lower the statistics for diagnosed cases and deaths from diabetes.
It is fairly common for people to not display any symptoms of diabetes, especially in the early phases of the disease. However, diabetes symptoms generally include one or more of the following, and people should be aware if they start to develop these symptoms, especially if they know they are at an increased risk.
- Urinating often
- Feeling very thirsty
- Feeling very hungry - even though you are eating
- Extreme fatigue
- Blurry vision
- Cuts/bruises that are slow to heal
- Weight loss - even though you are eating more (Type 1)
- Tingling, pain, or numbness in the hands/feet (Type 2)
It is important to recognize these symptoms as early on as possible because early detection and treatment of diabetes can decrease the risk of developing complications associated with the disease. There are several tests that doctors can perform to diagnose diabetes, and you can even take risk tests to find out if you are at increased risk for developing Type 2 diabetes.
Change your Diet
Because the leading risk factor for diabetes is obesity, the best thing you can do to prevent diabetes is to lose weight. Taking steps to lose weight can include eating smaller meal portions and choosing healthier foods, including fruits and vegetables, while at the same time consuming fewer high-fat foods. The National Education Diabetes Program recommends eating whole grain foods, avoiding consumption of fried goods, and eating lean meats without the skins, as well as others.
Another important step for losing weight is portion control. Try reducing portion sizes by only filling half of your plate or only eating until you are 80 percent full. Also always plan to take home half of your meal when you eat out, as restaurants are notorious for dishing out huge portions. Scaling back on dessert is also a factor to consider. Eating dessert is alright, but consume it less frequently and in smaller amounts. Yogurt is also a great substitute for dessert, as it is shown that regularly consuming dairy reduces the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
Get More Exercise
Activity can reduce your risk for Type 2 diabetes because it helps make your cells be more receptive. The National Education Diabetes Program recommends adding more activity each day until you reach at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Brisk walking, swimming and tennis or golf are great physical activities to get started, and you should also incorporate gentle strength and aerobic training into your physical activity regimen.
Stress and poor sleep also contribute to obesity and thus to diabetes. Exercising regularly can help reduce stress and get your body on a schedule, which helps regulate sleep habits. Other activities that can help with these include meditation, listening to soothing music, or sitting outside and enjoying relaxing activities such as reading or knitting.
Overall, being aware of your own personal risk for diabetes and keeping an eye on any developing symptoms is very important. But being proactive with your health and weight is something that every person can do, regardless if they already have diabetes or not, and these steps are enough to help lower your risk as well as reduce complications that might arise if/when the disease develops. With these subtle but dramatically important lifestyle changes, you can beat diabetes.