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 around 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 notice if anything changes. Also, make sure to tell your doctor about any new symptoms you experience.
Older adults with type 2 diabetes have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attack, and stroke compared to younger people with diabetes. Because of this, you should watch your blood pressure and cholesterol levels carefully.
There are many ways to control your blood pressure and cholesterol. For example, exercise, diet changes, and medications can help. If you have high blood pressure or cholesterol, discuss your treatment options with your doctor.
Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, is a serious side effect of certain diabetes medications.
The risk for hypoglycemia increases with age. This is because as you get older, the 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.
Symptoms of hypoglycemia include:
- blurred vision
- tingling of your mouth and lips
If you experience episodes of hypoglycemia, talk to your doctor about the dosage of your diabetes medication. You may need to take a lower dose.
For people with type 2 diabetes, weight loss can become difficult after age 50. Our cells become even more resistant to insulin as we age, which can lead to weight gain around the stomach area. Metabolism can slow down as we age as well.
Weight loss isn’t impossible, but it’ll likely take more hard work. When it comes to your diet, you may have to cut back dramatically on refined carbohydrates. 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.
Diabetes also affects the body’s ability to fight off infections. Once an ulcer forms, it can become seriously infected. If this isn’t properly taken care of, 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 for nerve damage and pain, known as diabetic neuropathy.
Nerve damage can happen in your hands and feet (peripheral neuropathy), or in the nerves that control organs in your body (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 (incontinence)
- erectile dysfunction
- trouble swallowing
- vision trouble, such as double vision
Talk to your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms.
Diabetes can affect you from your head to your toes. You’ll need to see a team of specialists to ensure that your body stays healthy.
Speak with your primary care doctor to find out if they recommend a referral to any of these specialists:
- certified diabetes educator
- nurse educator or diabetes nurse practitioner
- ophthalmologist or an optometrist (eye doctor)
- podiatrist (foot doctor)
- registered dietitian
- mental health professional (therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist)
- exercise physiologist
- cardiologist (heart doctor)
- nephrologist (kidney doctor)
- neurologist (a doctor specializing in disorders of the brain and nervous system)
Schedule regular checkups with the specialists your doctor recommends to make sure you’re reducing your chance of complications.
There isn’t a cure for type 2 diabetes, 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 don’t take their medications as directed. This may be due to cost, side effects, or simply not remembering. Talk to your doctor if something is preventing you from taking your medications as directed.
- Get regular exercise. The American Diabetes Association recommends 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous intensity aerobic activity at least five days per week, and strength training at least twice per week.
- Avoid sugar and high-carb, processed foods. You should 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 healthy weight. Ask your doctor about a healthy weight range for your height and age. See a nutritionist 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 helpyour 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 should closely monitor your medications for any serious side effects.
Both you and your diabetes healthcare team should 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.