Aging seems to be the only available way to live a long life.
—Daniel Francois Esprit Auber
America is aging. The number of senior citizens, ages 65 and older, in the United States is growing faster than the number of younger people. It now exceeds 40 million, making up about 13% of the total population. Experts estimate that by 2030, one in five US citizens will be considered an “older American.”
The older population is also living longer than in years past, with many seniors living for 15, 20, or more years past the typical retirement age. Given the sheer number of adults over 65, this population is now classified as “younger old,” “older old,” and “oldest old.” The “younger old” are those between the ages of 65 and 75, the “older old” are those between ages 75 and 85, and the “oldest old” are those who live past 85 years.
Regardless of specific age, as a person gets older, his risk for a chronic illness such as diabetes rises. In fact, almost 27% of Americans ages 65 and older have diabetes — in most cases, Type 2 diabetes. In addition, one out of two people this age has a condition called prediabetes, in which blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes. (Prediabetes often leads to the development of Type 2 diabetes.)
Both prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes — and, of course, Type 1 diabetes — merit serious attention from the person who has it and his health-care providers. All of these conditions can lead to a reduced quality of life and to long-term health complications if not cared for properly.
For people with prediabetes, medical care should focus on lifestyle changes that may reduce the chances of developing Type 2 diabetes. For people with diagnosed diabetes, ongoing diabetes self-management education and training is essential to understand what is necessary for managing diabetes, and how those needs may change over time.
Education about diabetes and its care is available in numerous places and formats. Most insurance plans cover a certain number of hours of education at the time of diagnosis and yearly thereafter. It is important that you discuss with your health-care provider the resources for education that exist in your community as well as the information that you and he believe will be beneficial to your ability to self-manage your diabetes.
As adults age, the risk of physical, cognitive, and sometimes psychological impairment increases. So it can be a good idea to include family and friends in the process of learning about your diabetes. Knowing more about how diabetes is best managed will enable them to help with your diabetes needs if a situation arises where you need help.
The American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE) recommends a framework for diabetes education that focuses on seven areas of self-care: healthy eating, being physically active, monitoring blood glucose levels, taking medicines correctly, learning to solve problems that arise in your diabetes management, taking steps to reduce your risk of diabetes complications, and learning to cope with the emotional ups and downs that come with living with a chronic condition. There are no set lessons for each of these areas; instead, diabetes educators can use the framework to guide what is covered in group education classes or one-to-one education sessions.