Aging Well: Awareness, positive outlook are key to diabetes care

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November is Diabetes Awareness Month. Many resources are available to help people with diabetes and their caregivers/family members:

- Local Diabetes Education Programs offer counseling, resources and support groups for people with diabetes. For more information, call Jane Dickinson at Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs, 871-2352 or Amy Knights at The Memorial Hospital in Craig, 826-2511.

- Healthier Living Colorado is a free workshop designed to help older adults better manage diabetes and other chronic conditions. For information about upcoming classes in Routt and Moffat counties, call 871-7676.

- Additional resources include The American Diabetes Association at www.diabetes.org; the National Diabetes Education Program at www.ndep.nih.gov; and the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse at www.diabetes.nidd...>

Saundra Steele first noticed her vision problems on a routine drive to Craig. Road signs, which normally appeared clear, were blurry, even through her prescription glasses.

A trip to the doctor confirmed her suspicion: She had type 2 diabetes, a condition she likely had inherited from her father, who also had been diagnosed with the disease in his 60s.

With a good understanding of diabetes and a background in nutrition, Steele, now 72, felt reasonably prepared to tackle the life changes and routines that would challenge her health. That doesn't mean it was easy. Experimenting with different foods and recipes, exercising more and waiting for the right results often proved frustrating.

Knowledge - in the form of counseling, support groups, cookbooks and magazines for people with diabetes - has been a powerful tool in helping Steele tackle these challenges while keeping her head up in the process.

"It's pretty overwhelming, but it's not something you can't overcome," she said. "You just have to give it time and make sure you have support."

Diabetes and older adults

Diabetes is a condition in which the body does not make any or enough of the hormone insulin and does not effectively use insulin to change glucose derived from sugars, starches and other food into energy. This results in blood glucose levels or blood sugar that is too high.

Type 2 diabetes, in which the body makes insulin but does not use it the right way, makes up the vast majority of new diabetes cases every year.

Jane Dickinson, diabetes education program director at Yampa Valley Medical Center, notes that the high occurrence of diabetes in older adults may be a result of the sheer numbers of aging baby boomers. However, older adults also are more susceptible to a nonpreventable form of type 2 diabetes brought on by age-related changes in the body.

Individuals with pre-diabetes, or those with higher-than-normal blood-glucose levels who aren't quite diabetic, actually can prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes with healthy lifestyle changes.

Education and support

There are many resources to help individuals overcome the initial shock of diagnosis and get on with maintaining, or improving, their quality of life despite having diabetes.

One of the first steps is diabetes counseling, a service widely available to people with diabetes that also is included in Medicare benefits.

Diabetes education programs, along with doctors, provide people with diabetes information and ongoing support to help them monitor their conditions and learn to balance their blood glucose levels with a combination of a healthy diet, exercise and the possible use of diabetes medication and/or insulin.

Counselors also make people with diabetes aware of potential short- and long-term complications or problems related to the disease. Older adults, for example, may be at higher risk for falls if they take insulin or diabetes medications that can sometimes impair concentration and reflexes, Dickinson said.

Older people with diabetes also are encouraged to check their feet daily for problems, get regular blood pressure checks, routine eye and foot exams, tests for kidney function, and A1C tests, which test a person's average blood glucose level for the past two to three months.

Individuals with diabetes also may visit with a dietitian to develop an personalized diet that will help balance their blood sugar levels and/or lose excess weight that prevents insulin from working efficiently.

Having a good support system that includes informed family members, caregivers and friends, as well as support from other people with diabetes, is critical in helping ease the diabetes management process, Dickinson said.

Family members and caregivers are encouraged to attend at lease initial diabetes counseling with their loved ones who have diabetes. People with diabetes also may attend support groups offered through diabetes education programs or log onto support groups on the Internet.

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