Blood Sugar & Age: Keeping Things in Balance

By Brian Heppard, M.D.

Glucose — or blood sugar — is essential fuel for the body. Depending on your age and health, developing Type 2 diabetes can compromise the body’s insulin production and its ability to transform glucose into the energy we need to thrive.

As we age, chronic diseases such as hypertension, high cholesterol and obesity increase our risk of Type 2 diabetes (also called adult-onset diabetes). Without treatment, diabetes increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, and amputation. Memory problems, depression, and challenges with diabetic self-care also appear in seniors.

Managing diabetes

People in their 60s should maintain relatively tight control of their blood sugars and follow preventive measures like:
• Diabetic foot checks
• Regular vision screens
• Healthy diet and exercise
• Medication if necessary

For older seniors, I focus on their day-to-day functioning and enjoyment of life. This may mean allowing blood sugars to run a little higher.

Lower sugar puts seniors at higher risk

Medical evidence is clear that very tight sugar control is dangerous for frail seniors and nursing home patients because it may cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). They may experience the jitters, sweats, or fainting, which can increase the risk of potentially fatal falls, hip fractures, and head injuries.

Are you at risk?

Regardless of your age, if you experience significant weight gain or loss, excessive thirst, frequent urination, hunger, jitters or irritability, it may be a warning sign to see your doctor.

Fortunately, environment and lifestyle are the most common triggers of Type 2 diabetes, so there are ways to change your prognosis:
• Be active. Exercise at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week.
• Eat well. Choose the diet that is right for you.
• Maintain a healthy weight. Keep body fat (body mass index or BMI) within a healthy range for your profile.
• Sleep well. Strive for eight hours per night.
• Do not smoke. Quitting is the single best thing you can do for your health.
• Limit alcohol. Have only one or two, 5-ounce drinks per day, depending on your gender.
• Work closely with your doctor. Review your medications regularly to identify side effects.

While we cannot avoid aging, we can adopt a healthier lifestyle to stave off or manage diabetes with minimal medical intervention. For more information, contact the American Diabetes Association: or 1-800-DIABETES.

Brian Heppard, a certified medical director (CMD), is a physician at St. Ann’s Community and Pillar Medical Associates, PC, which provides outpatient care for seniors in assisted living and independent living. He is board certified in family medicine, geriatrics, and hospice & palliative care. Contact him at bheppard@stannscommunity or visit