seniors and diabetes

Seniors Managing Type 2 Diabetes

Author: Renae Diggles


Bio: Renae is a partner at Aged Care Prepare & Retirement Now. She’s an experienced registered nurse and certified case manager who has specialised in aged and community care for many years.

In addition to her nursing background, she has studied nutrition at a post-graduate level, and is passionate about improving the health and wellbeing of older Australians.

This month she writes for The Diabetes Kitchen about managing diabetes for Seniors. Enjoy!

Prevention & Management of Type 2 Diabetes

As you get older, your risk of developing type 2 diabetes increases. According to the Australian Institute of Health & Welfare, people aged 65 to 74 years are three times more likely to develop diabetes than people aged 45 to 54 years.

When it is unmanaged, type II diabetes can reduce your life expectancy and negatively impact on your quality of life. But, with some important changes to your lifestyle, you can manage type 2 diabetes and keep your blood glucose levels at a level that is close to normal. This can delay and even prevent complications related to the disease.

Improve Your Health & Wellbeing in Later Life

It’s never too late to work on improving your health and overall wellbeing. While type I diabetes is not linked to lifestyle, type II diabetes is largely linked to lifestyle factors. It’s typically a progressive disease, and you become resistant to the effects of insulin or your body eventually stops producing enough insulin.

While age and family history are unmodifiable risk factors linked to type 2 diabetes, there are modifiable risk factors linked to the disease. These include diet, weight management, limiting alcohol & improving physical activity.

It’s really important to monitor your blood glucose levels after a diagnosis of diabetes. It’s also really important that you take your diabetes medication as it has been prescribed to you by your medical practitioner. Furthermore, you can work on modifiable risk factors to improve your health outcomes. A healthy diet is the first step in the right direction.

Age-Related Factors Impacting on Diet

Many older people live alone and don’t enjoy cooking for one, or don’t enjoy cooking anymore. Other older Australians have health complications that impact on their ability to plan, prepare and eat meals. In fact, there are many factors impacting on seniors’ abilities to meet nutritional requirements to support healthy ageing.

Oral Health

Our mouths are really important when it comes to eating well. In aged care, it’s not uncommon for people to have ill-fitting dentures, impacting on their ability to chew certain foods. A lot of people also develop periodontal disease as they age, and often have tenderness in their gums. Other people have issues with reduced saliva and problems with swallowing foods. If you or your loved one have concerns with their oral health, talk to your G.P or make an appointment with your dentist. You might also need a referral to a speech pathologist or dietician to help you. In any case, reach out and get the help that you need in order to improve your overall health.


Some elderly people have mobility issues that impact on their mealtimes. Severe arthritis is one complication that impacts on meal preparation and the eating of meals. Mealtimes are hard for others as they might not be able to move around quick enough to cook a meal. Navigating a kitchen when you have an unsteady gate or can’t move quickly is problematic. If you’re struggling with food preparation, there is help available. You could express your concerns with friends and family, and see if you can get some support with mealtime. If that’s not possible, you can contact My Aged Care to start the process of arranging aged care support services that you require, including help with meals and cooking.

Mental Health

According to the National Diabetes Services Scheme (NDSS), there’s a link between depression and diabetes that is not clearly understood. It’s also common for older people to suffer from depression. But depression is not a normal part of ageing. Depression can have a significant impact on how somebody manages their physical health and their diabetes.

If you’re suffering from depression, this could be impacting on your energy levels. Poor energy levels can impact on one’s ability to be physically active, to cook meals or to bother monitoring blood glucose levels.

If you have an elderly loved one, it’s a good idea to check in on them from time to time, and find out how they are managing with their diet, diabetes diagnosis, and mental health. If you have any concerns about your or your loved one’s mental health, you can contact Beyond Blue for support, guidance and action.

Improving Your Diet Later in Life

Even though there isn’t a one-size-fits-all model, eating a healthy diet is good for everyone. This includes plenty of vegetables, fruits, and high fibre foods. To get you on track, start with the Australian Dietary Guidelines.

Other modifications to include in your diet are reducing your intake of saturated fats and reducing too many refined sugars. Also, reduce your alcohol intake as it leads to weight gain and increased blood pressure. At the end of the day, the key is to make healthy choices and control your portions.

At times it can be challenging working out what you can and can’t have when you’re modifying and improving your diet. But there are a couple of simple things that you can do. You can look at ordering your weekly meal plans and snacks online to take the stress out of planning. The Diabetes Kitchen meals are specifically prepared for people living a diabetes diagnosis. This also helps older people who struggle with meal preparation due to other health conditions.

Another good resource to help you out with improving your diet is a diabetes educator or a dietician. They will give you the help and support that you need to manage your blood glucose levels, and to plan and manage your diet. If you’re worried about being able to afford an appointment with a dietician, there is government support available for people with a chronic health condition such as diabetes. A GP management plan entitles people up to 5 allied health visits per year, covered under the chronic diseases management services.

Also, if you join the NDSS, you’ll have access to support services such as healthy eating programs. These services are usually free of charge or incur a tiny fee. For more information on services & events, you can call the NDSS Helpline on 1800 637 700.

Age-Related Factors Impacting on Weight

As we age, our activity levels often reduce. This is due to many factors including limited mobility, fear of injury, and decreased energy levels. As energy levels decrease, people don’t need to eat as much food. If your lifestyle has become more sedentary, adjusting your dietary intake accordingly, will help you to achieve or maintain a healthy weight.

Weight Loss and Improved Health Outcomes

Achieving a healthy weight can improve blood pressure and cholesterol, and better control blood glucose levels. Even a small weight loss will improve your overall health. But according to the Mayo Clinic, “the more weight you lose, the greater the benefit to your health and disease management.”

Reducing your intake of sugary foods and fatty foods will also help to maintain a healthy weight. Fat is more calorie-dense than carbohydrates and protein, and should be limited to healthy fats such as oily fish, nuts or avocado. Avoiding saturated fats will help in managing weight. Also, try to swap those sweet biscuits that you enjoy with your cup of tea each morning. Why not grab some berries or nuts instead?

Furthermore, work on your portion sizes. If you’re gaining weight because your energy needs have changed, try not to eat as larger portions, and maybe look at eating smaller amounts, more frequently. This will aid in maintaining near-normal blood glucose levels.

Physical Activity for Older Adults

As mentioned, bodies don’t work like they used to as they get older. Older people have muscle deterioration, they might suffer from arthritis or osteoporosis, and they might struggle with balance.

The key to improving physical activity as a senior, is to be safe and sensible. Don’t get up tomorrow and try to run 5km if you haven’t run for 30 years. Work on your fitness levels over time, under the instruction of your G.P. or an exercise physiologist. If you live with chronic health conditions such as heart disease, or diabetes, it is absolutely crucial that you get medical advice before you increase your physical activity. Your G.P. is the best first point of call.

With that being said, if you build up to exercising regularly, it will aid in reducing your blood glucose levels, your cholesterol and your blood pressure. It will also help with maintaining a healthy weight. If you have diabetes, all of this will help your insulin to work better and help to manage blood glucose levels.

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