By Linda Kerr,
Diabetes is a chronic disease that affects many older adults and is a significant health issue for the United States. Diabetes is expected to be the seventh leading cause of death worldwide by 2030, according to the World Health Organization. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says more than 34 million Americans have diabetes, and 26.8% of those were at least 65 years old. These numbers are expected to continue rising exponentially as the aging population increases.
But what is pre-diabetes?
Pre-diabetes is a condition that demonstrates an increased risk for diabetes. It is identified when a person has a higher than normal blood sugar level, but not consistently high enough to be considered diabetes. With pre-diabetes, the body develops resistance to its own insulin. It’s important to take pre-diabetes seriously, as this condition can lead to Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
The American Diabetes Association recommends that once you turn 45, you begin regular pre-diabetes screenings and an annual assessment of the hemoglobin A1c. If tests are normal, then repeat testing may be conducted at three-year intervals.
The hemoglobin A1c test will reveal your average blood sugar levels for the past three months. This blood test may be used to diagnose pre-diabetes or diabetes. If your hemoglobin A1c is between 5.7% to 6.4%, for example, then you are within the range for pre-diabetes. If the hemoglobin A1c result is 6.5% or greater, then diabetes may be diagnosed.
Assessment for pre-diabetes may start at an earlier age or occur more frequently if you have multiple risk factors for diabetes. Common risk factors include an inactive lifestyle, being overweight or obese, having a history of gestational diabetes, or family history of diabetes. It’s important that pre-diabetes or diabetes does not go undiagnosed, so timely and focused communication with your doctor is essential.
What causes pre-diabetes and how can you prevent it?
While the exact cause of pre-diabetes is unknown, family history and genetics play an important role in its development. Some ethnicities have a higher risk of developing pre-diabetes and Type 2 diabetes over others. These include African American, Hispanic, Asian and Pacific Islander people.
While some risk factors are beyond your control, there are important lifestyle adjustments that may indefinitely hold off the onset of pre-diabetes.
- Good nutrition: Naturally regulate your blood sugar by choosing healthy carbohydrate options such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Avoid foods that are high in processed sugar, saturated fats and trans fats. Consider connecting with a dietitian who can help you meal plan and provide you with meaningful options to inspire healthy nutrition decisions.
- Exercise frequently: With age, you may experience muscle and joint discomfort, diminished vision, or loss of balance, which can interfere with your motivation to get more active. The ADA recommends 30 minutes of sustained aerobic activity most days of the week. Always check with your doctor before starting any new physical activity.
- Know your numbers: It is essential to know the ADA-recommended goals and targets for blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol, fasting blood sugars and hemoglobin A1c. Be sure to ask your doctor for lab results at every visit. Adjusted blood sugar goals may be indicated for older adults with multiple chronic illnesses. Do not hesitate to ask questions and keep notes on how you’re doing with your health goals.
Pre-diabetes: the good news
Consistent healthy lifestyle choices can help prevent progression to pre-diabetes or diabetes. So start today. Initiate discussions about diabetes with your doctor, review your risk for developing pre-diabetes or diabetes and create a plan to make healthy adjustments to your nutrition and activity.
Finally, don’t overdo it. Start with one new healthy habit and live with it for a month, before adding a new habit to the routine. As always – have fun, nurture the support of friends and family, and make it an interesting journey.
Find a primary care doctor who can help you prevent diabetes at memorialcare.org/Providers.
Linda Kerr is the director of the Diabetes Program at MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center.
Source: Orange County Register