A diagnosis of diabetes can leave someone uncertain and a little fearful of what the future holds. When this diagnosis is made in one’s senior years, the emotional roller coaster can be even more profound. Knowing the possible long-term consequences associated with damage to the nerves and arteries—heart attack, stroke, damage to the eyes and kidneys, as well as peripheral nerve damage—can leave anyone feeling disheartened. When facing this disease with pre-existing conditions such as obesity, high blood pressure or arthritis, it’s easy to consider throwing in the towel and going to the freezer for a big bowl of ice cream.
The good news: If your parent changes their lifestyle and keeps their blood sugar level in the right range, many, if not all, of the serious consequences can be prevented or delayed. Though fear is not always the best motivating factor, it can help ensure compliance when changing one’s lifestyle.
Motivate your parent with these facts: Diabetes is one of the leading causes of disability, adult blindness, kidney disease and amputations of the feet or legs. Those with diabetes are twice as likely to have a heart attack or stroke. Your parent can manage their diabetes and blood sugar levels with exercise, diet and taking their medications as prescribed.
Exercise: The minimum recommended amount of exercise is at least 30 minutes of exercise 5 days a week. Studies show that only 39 percent of those with diabetes participate in a regularly scheduled exercise program. Help your parent fall into that group by finding exercise programs and classes that excite them. For some, that may mean taking sunset walks through the neighborhood or weekend trips to nature trails. For others, it may mean taking advantage of one of the many exercise programs geared for seniors that are usually offered at the local senior community center or YMCA.
Swimming or water aerobics is particularly beneficial as it reduces the pressure on joints. Tai chi, a gentle form of Chinese martial arts, is growing in popularity with seniors due to its ability to increase muscle tone, flexibility and balance.
Diet: There are several diabetic dietary plans. These include the Plate Method, Carbohydrate Counting and a Low-glycemic Index diet.
Plate Plan–Use a 9” diameter plate and fill the segments as follows: ½ non-starchy vegetables, ¼ whole grains, ¼ lean proteins, a serving of fruit and low-fat dairy on the side. Healthy fats you may include in moderation include olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds.
Carbohydrate Counting—This plan consists of keeping track of the amount of carbohydrates you eat at each meal. Your parent’s physician is the best source for determining this number. Generally, people start at anywhere from 45 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per meal. The quality of the carbohydrate is also important. Always choose whole grains over processed white flour and rice products.
Low-glycemic Index—This index classifies carbohydrate-containing foods based on their tendency to raise blood sugar. The lower the number, the less impact that particular food has on your blood sugar. Fifty-five or less is a good number to aim for when controlling blood sugar levels.
If your loved one needs assistance with the daily activities of living, preparing diabetic-friendly meals or needs motivation to perform their daily exercise, consider the aid of a homecare provider. They can provide transportation, accompany your parent on walks, and provide the companionship that often makes lifestyle changes a little easier to make.