Managing Diabetes as a Senior

Better nutrition, exercise still key to controlling diabetes

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Managing Type-2 diabetes as an older adult is a little more complicated than with younger people.

Often by this stage in life, other health issues have arisen.

Doctors tell diabetic patients to exercise. However, by this stage of life, more limited mobility from arthritis or injuries can make it more challenging to work out.

The care for other health conditions can make it difficult to take on all of the care necessitated by diabetes, such as managing blood pressure and cholesterol, smoking cessation, annual eye exams, careful foot care, annual urine and blood tests for kidney health and dietary changes.

Seeking help from a certified diabetes educator can assist in managing the various aspects of the condition. Dietary changes may be most difficult of all, but one of the most needful, and a dietitian or a certified diabetes educator can help. You may also consider moving to a facility that offers independent living services to help you manage the symptoms of diabetes and any other diseases you’re suffering from. If you’re looking for a senior living community in the Winston-Salem area, you may consider Heritage Woods independent living.

“You want to be consistent,” said Haylee Pink dietetic intern working at Geneva General Hospital. “That’s the number one thing. We don’t want patients waking up not hungry and then they next feel hungry at 1 p.m. and have a piece of cake.” Instead, eating balanced meals at regular times can help patients keep their blood sugar level stable. Pink recommends pairing carbohydrate sources with protein sources, such as fruited yogurt.

“It helps control their blood sugars,” she said. “That can be hard when you crave candy or cookies but pairing it with something nutritious helps lower the effect of the glucose.”

A few other choices could include cheese or cottage cheese with a whole grain cracker or peanut butter on slices of apple.

“Look at the fiber intake,” Pink added. “Higher fiber helps with blood sugar.”

Whole grain toast and popcorn present two sources high in fiber, but Pink noted that the popcorn should be only lightly salted and seasoned with olive oil, “not like the buttery movie theater popcorn.”

Exercising regularly can help maintain blood sugar. Pink advises eating a small amount of carbohydrates before an exercise session. Swimming, elliptical workouts and senior yoga all represent forms of exercise gentle for people with arthritis.

Pink also tells people with diabetes to go to their regular check-ups with their physicians. They should also keep their healthcare provider abreast of any changes in diet, medication, supplements and over-the-counter items.

“People should be met where they are and take steps to improve health,” Juliann M. Mellen, dietitian with Upstate University Hospital. “Management includes lifestyle modifications, diet, exercise, smoking cessation, treating hypertension and dyslipidemia, keeping medical appointments, and medication management if needed.”

Although it may be more challenging for older adults to maintain healthy blood glucose levels if they have comorbidities, poor health or cognitive decline, Mellen said that making these changes can positively impact quality of life.

“Lifestyle changes include weight reduction if needed,” Mellen said.

A good goal could be to increasing activity to a goal of 150 minutes a week minimum, broken into 30-minute brisk walks five days a week along with weight training two days a week to improve lean body mass.

“MyPlate for diabetes is a good guide for planning meals,” Mellen said.

This means filling half of a standard nine- or 10-inch plate with non-starchy vegetables raw or cooked, and the other half of the plate with lean protein and starchy foods, about one-quarter each.

“Incorporate more whole grains and less refined grains,” Mellen said. “Include two to three servings of fruit daily and two to three servings of dairy or alternative; choose healthy fats in moderation. is a good resource.”