The older we get, the more likely we are to get diabetes, specifically type 2. Around 1 in 7 older people have diabetes and these numbers are likely to rise. 

Although no-one completely understands the causes of diabetes, if you control the risk factors, you can reduce your chances of getting it.

There are two main types of diabetes that can affect older people:

Type 1

People who do not make any insulin (or very little) have type 1 diabetes. Because the immune system destroys the pancreas they have stopped making insulin, and their body is unable to use glucose for energy. They tend to lose weight very quickly because their body is actually being starved. Their health rapidly deteriorates and they would die if insulin were not given.

Type 2

People with type 2 diabetes are still making insulin but the production is sluggish or their body is resistant to insulin. Becoming overweight is almost always the cause of the body becoming resistant to insulin and can trigger type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is by far the most common form of diabetes. In New Zealand about 270,000 people have type 2 diabetes and about one third of cases of type 2 diabetes are undiagnosed. The numbers of people developing type 2 diabetes is rapidly increasing. In some groups of people up to 12% of them will have type 2 diabetes once they are aged over 40 years.

Symptoms of type 2 diabetes

You may have had diabetes for many years without realising it. Not everyone has symptoms.

Symptoms may include:

  • Feeling tired and lacking energy
  • Feeling thirsty
  • Going to the toilet often
  • Getting infections frequently
  • Getting infections which are hard to heal
  • Poor eyesight or blurred vision
  • Often feeling hungry

If you have any of the above symptoms, discuss these with your doctor.
The symptoms get better when your blood glucose is better controlled.

You can decrease your chance of developing type 2 diabetics by:

  1. Lose weight Quite simply, shedding pounds will drastically reduce your chances of getting type 2 diabetes. 80% of people who have diabetes are overweight, so if you are overweight or obese, it's time to think about cutting back. A good measure is your waist size. More than 80cm for a woman and 94cm for a man and you need to start thinking about cutting back.
  2. Increase your exercise levels It goes without saying that increasing the amount of time you spend exercising will make you feel better and help towards losing weight. Research has found that regular exercise can reduce your risk of developing by up to 64%, so it is backed up by science. Talk to your GP for an idea of some suitable exercises for you.
  3. Stop smoking Most people are aware of smoking's link to cancer, but not as many understand how it's connected to diabetes. Smoking has been proven to increase blood pressure levels, which are known to be a major cause of diabetes.
  4. Eat healthily A diet that is low in fat, sugar and salt and contains a lot of fruit and vegetable will reduce your cholesterol levels - a simple way to reduce your risk of diabetes.
  5. Cut down on alcohol. Drinking alcohol can contribute towards the conditions that cause diabetes.

Diabetes Related Retinopathy

Websites of interest

Find your nearest Age Concern