Anyone at any age can be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. But for older adults, this condition can impact your life in different ways. As we age, our internal organs change. Our metabolism slows, our aerobic capacity diminishes, and our bodies become less adept at absorbing glucose from the bloodstream.

As a result, older adults with diabetes have an increased risk of complications. Yet lifestyle changes can help you manage your treatment and live a healthy life.

Potential Complications

Older adults who have diabetes are at risk for developing the same complications as young people with diabetes. However, their risk for cardiovascular disease is much higher, depending on how long they’ve had diabetes. Older adults are also more likely to be dealing with other conditions, such as dementia, depression, urinary incontinence, falls, and chronic pain. Uncontrolled diabetes and its complications can speed the aging process. Eye disease can worsen already-fading eyesight, diabetic neuropathy can complicate arthritis, and diabetic kidney disease can speed the decline of kidney function.

One major danger for older adults with diabetes is hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. The incidence of hypoglycemia increases with age and in people taking medications that lower blood sugar. Older adults are more likely to be taking several different medications. These may interact with diabetes treatment and cause hypoglycemia. Older adults may also have poor or little appetite, which is another potential trigger for low blood sugar.

Recognizing the signs of low blood sugar isn’t always easy. Some early signs of low blood sugar include:

  • sweating
  • dizziness
  • blurry vision
  • hunger
  • headache
  • shaking
  • trouble thinking clearly

The American Diabetes Association stresses individualized glucose targets for older adults. Talk to your doctor about what target is best for you.

Lifestyle Modifications

Despite the difficulties of managing diabetes, today older adults with type 2 diabetes are more likely than ever to live a healthy life without major complications.

Exercise is one of the most important strategies to slow the effects of diabetes over time. The downward spiral of aging, both for people with and without diabetes, is often a result of inactivity. Muscles that aren’t used sufficiently become weak, falls become more common, and the activities of everyday life become more difficult.

Here are some recommendations if you’re looking to start a new exercise routine:

  • Start walking. Aerobic exercise lowers blood pressure and blood sugar levels. Over time it lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease. If walking is difficult, use an exercise bike, swim, or just move your limbs while sitting to get your heart rate up.
  • Do strength training. Building muscle mass improves glucose metabolism and blood sugar control and helps maintain muscle as we age.
  • Try yoga or tai chi. Both of these enhance flexibility and balance, relieve stress, and improve mood.

In addition to exercising, eating right is important for people with diabetes. This typically means eating regularly and focusing on high-fiber, less processed foods. Ideally, the diet will include many plant-based foods and healthy fat choices. Make sure not to skip meals, and try to time meals to meet your medication’s peak activity time.

Taking your medication as prescribed is also important. Be sure to discuss the correct way to take all of your medications with your doctor or pharmacist, and then stick with this schedule.

Getting the proper amount of sleep will also keep you healthy. Studies have shown that sleep deprivation can lead to insulin resistance, which can worsen blood sugar control.

And, of course, make sure to see your doctor regularly and speak about your diabetes and how you’re managing it. Minor complications can easily turn into major ones without proper attention.