Diabetes can affect people of any age. But managing type 2 diabetes can become more complicated as you get older.

Here are a few things you might notice about your type 2 diabetes after age 50, and steps you can take to keep it under control.

As you get older, your symptoms might change completely. Age can also mask some diabetes symptoms.

For example, maybe you used to feel thirsty if your blood glucose levels were too high. As you age, you might lose your sense of thirst when your blood sugar gets too high. Or, you might not feel any different at all.

It’s important to pay attention to your symptoms, so you can notice if anything changes. Also, make sure to tell your doctor about any new symptoms you experience.

Johns Hopkins Medicine says that older adults with type 2 diabetes have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attack, and stroke compared to younger people with diabetes.

You have many ways to control your blood pressure and cholesterol, which can help you manage your risk for cardiovascular disease. For example, exercise, diet changes, and medications can help. If you have high blood pressure or cholesterol, discuss your treatment options with your doctor.

Diabetes symptoms around menopause

Although for some people it may begin earlier, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development says that the average woman begins menopause at 51 years old. If you’re living with diabetes in your 50s and have menopause, you’ll want to be aware that your estrogen levels are going down. This can further increase your risk for heart problems.

You’re already at an increased risk of heart problems if you have diabetes. Because of this, watch your blood pressure and cholesterol levels carefully. People who have menopause and diabetes may not experience the typical symptoms of heart disease, so pay attention to any symptoms that may indicate problems with your heart.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these may include:

  • chest pain that may be dull or sharp
  • pain in your throat, jaw, or neck
  • pain in your back
  • pain in your stomach
  • vomiting or nausea
  • fatigue
  • feeling dizzy
  • feeling short of breath
  • joint swelling
  • heart palpitations

A 2012 study found that older women living with diabetes experienced additional symptoms, including urinary incontinence and an increase in falls that led to hip or shoulder fractures.

Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, is a serious side effect of certain diabetes medications.

The risk of hypoglycemia increases with age, as shown in a 2012 study. This is because as you get older, your kidneys don’t function as well at removing diabetes medications from the body.

The medications can work for longer than they’re supposed to, causing your blood sugar to drop too low. Taking many different types of medications, skipping meals, or having kidney disease or other conditions also increases your risk.

According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), symptoms of hypoglycemia include:

  • confusion
  • dizziness
  • trembling
  • blurred vision
  • sweating
  • hunger
  • tingling of your mouth and lips

If you experience episodes of hypoglycemia, talk with your doctor about the dosage of your diabetes medication. You may need to take a lower dose.

Standard blood sugar levels

If you or your doctor suspect you may have diabetes or prediabetes, you may need to test your average blood sugar levels over the last 3 months. This is done with an A1C test.

The CDC says that an A1C test measures the percentage of red blood cells in your blood that contain the protein hemoglobin attached to glucose. People with high blood sugar will have more sugar attached to hemoglobin in their blood.

In this way, an A1C test can tell you if your blood sugar levels are within the standard (“normal”) range.

You can interpret the results as follows:

Normalbelow 5.7%
6.5% or above

However, people over the age of 50 may have additional health conditions that may increase their risk of hypoglycemia.

Your doctor may want to monitor your fasting and bedtime glucose levels as well as your A1C. Fasting glucose levels are measured after fasting for at least 8 hours before the test. Bedtime glucose levels are measured at bedtime. These measurements serve as a way to monitor how your medications and diet are working throughout the day and whether you need to adjust them.

According to the ADA, the following recommendations apply to older adults:

Health statusA1C goalFasting glucoseBedtime glucose
healthy with few coexisting conditionsless than 7.0–7.5% 80–130 mg/dL80–180 mg/dL
complex/intermediate with multiple coexisting conditions; may have some mild to moderate limits to mobility or cognitionless than 8.0% 90–150 mg/dL100–180 mg/dL
very complex/poor health with an end stage chronic illness, significantly limited mobility, or cognitive impairmentavoid reliance on A1C; glucose control decisions should be based on avoiding hypoglycemia and symptomatic hyperglycemia110–180 mg/dL110–200 mg/dL

For people with type 2 diabetes, a 2018 study shows that weight loss can become difficult. Your cells become even more resistant to insulin as you age, which can lead to weight gain around the stomach area. Metabolism can slow down as you age as well.

Weight loss isn’t impossible, but it’ll likely take more hard work. When it comes to your diet, you may decide to cut back dramatically on refined carbohydrates, which are more heavily processed than other carbs. You’ll want to replace them with whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

Keeping a food journal may also help you lose weight. The key is to be consistent. Speak with your doctor or a dietitian about creating a safe and effective weight loss plan.

Over time, nerve damage and circulation problems caused by diabetes can lead to foot problems like diabetic foot ulcers, as seen in a 2015 study.

Diabetes also affects the body’s ability to fight off infections. Once an ulcer forms, it can become seriously infected. If this doesn’t receive proper treatment, it has the potential to lead to foot or leg amputation.

As you get older, foot care becomes critical. You should keep your feet clean, dry, and protected from injury. Make sure to wear comfortable, well-fitting shoes with comfortable socks.

Check your feet and toes thoroughly and contact your doctor right away if you notice any red patches, sores, or blisters.

The longer you have diabetes, the higher your risk of nerve damage and pain, which the ADA defines as diabetic neuropathy.

Nerve damage can happen in your hands and feet, where it’s called peripheral neuropathy, or in the nerves that control organs in your body, where it’s known as autonomic neuropathy.

Symptoms may include:

  • sensitivity to touch
  • numbness, tingling, or burning sensations in the hands or feet
  • loss of balance or coordination
  • muscle weakness
  • excessive or decreased sweating
  • bladder problems, such as incomplete bladder emptying or incontinence
  • erectile dysfunction
  • trouble swallowing
  • vision trouble, such as double vision

Talk with your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms.

Diabetes can affect you from your head to your toes. The ADA says that you may want to have a team of specialists to ensure that your body stays healthy.

Speak with your primary care doctor to find out if they can refer you to any of these specialists:

  • endocrinologist
  • pharmacist
  • certified diabetes educator
  • nurse educator or diabetes nurse practitioner
  • eye doctor, such as an ophthalmologist or optometrist
  • podiatrist, or foot doctor
  • registered dietitian
  • mental health professional, such as a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist
  • dentist
  • exercise physiologist
  • cardiologist, or heart doctor
  • nephrologist, or kidney doctor
  • neurologist, or a doctor specializing in disorders of the brain and nervous system

If you can, schedule regular checkups with the specialists your doctor recommends to make sure you’re reducing your chances of complications.

Type 2 diabetes doesn’t have a cure, but you can manage it with medications and healthy lifestyle choices as you age.

Here are a few steps to take to enjoy a healthy life with type 2 diabetes after age 50:

  • Take your medications as directed by your doctor. One reason people don’t have good control over their type 2 diabetes is because they aren’t able to take their medications as directed. This may be due to cost, side effects, or simply not remembering. Talk with your doctor if something is preventing you from taking your medications as directed.
  • Get regular exercise. The ADA recommends 30 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic activity at least 5 days per week, and strength training at least twice per week.
  • Avoid sugar and high carb, processed foods. Try to reduce the amount of sugar and high carbohydrate processed foods you eat. This includes desserts, candy, sugary drinks, packaged snacks, white bread, rice, and pasta.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Make sure you stay hydrated throughout the day and drink water often.
  • Reduce stress. Stress reduction and relaxation play a big part in staying healthy as you age. Make sure to schedule in time for enjoyable activities. Meditation, tai chi, yoga, and massage are some effective methods to reduce stress.
  • Maintain a moderate weight. Ask your doctor about a moderate weight range for your height and age. Connect with a dietitian for help deciding what to eat and what to avoid. They can also give you tips for losing weight.
  • Get regular checkups from your healthcare team. Regular checkups will help your doctors catch minor health issues before they turn into major ones.

You can’t turn back the clock, but when it comes to type 2 diabetes, you do have some control over your condition.

After age 50, it becomes more important to monitor your blood pressure and cholesterol levels and to be aware of new symptoms. On top of this, you and your doctor will closely monitor your medications for any serious side effects.

Both you and your diabetes healthcare team play an active role in developing a personalized treatment approach. With proper management, you can expect to live a long and full life with type 2 diabetes.