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Signs of type 2 diabetes in the elderly

Type 2 diabetes is increasingly common in older adults and can have serious health implications if it isn’t diagnosed and treated effectively.

June 14, 2023

Woman having diabetes test

Type 2 diabetes is increasingly common in older adults and can have serious health implications if it isn’t diagnosed and treated effectively. There are around 4.8 million people in the UK living with diabetes, and the majority of these have type 2 diabetes.

Approximately 1.5 million of those living with diabetes are over the age of 65 and there can be additional challenges in managing the condition for the elderly.

In this article, we look at what type 2 diabetes is and what causes it, what the signs are and how you can help an older loved one if you suspect that they might have, or be at risk of developing, type 2 diabetes.  

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Causes of type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is caused by a chemical within the body, called insulin, not working as it should do to help control the levels of blood glucose. It might be that the pancreas isn’t able to make enough insulin anymore, or sometimes the insulin isn’t interacting with the body in the same way as it used to.

Having a good level of blood glucose is important as it gives the body energy, but having too much or too little can lead to health issues and, in severe cases, can sometimes be fatal.

There are many things that can contribute to the chances of someone developing type 2 diabetes, although everyone is different. These include:

  • If the body is storing excess fat around the liver and pancreas
  • A genetic link to the condition i.e. a family history of type 2 diabetes and some ethnicities are also more likely to develop type 2 diabetes
  • Being overweight or obese

A common myth is that too much sugar in food and drinks causes type 2 diabetes. Sugar doesn’t directly causes type 2 diabetes, but eating an unhealthy diet and gaining weight as a result can increase the risk of developing the condition.

Risk factors for type 2 diabetes

As mentioned previously, there can be several different potential causes of type 2 diabetes and there are some specific risk factors that are associated with the condition. These risk factors include:

  • Age, with the risk of developing type 2 diabetes increasing as we get older
  • Ethnicity, with people from African Caribbean, Black African or South Asian backgrounds having a higher risk of developing the condition
  • Being overweight
  • Having high blood pressure, or having had it in the past
  • A family history of type 2 diabetes
  • Living a sedentary or inactive lifestyle
  • Eating a diet that is high in processed foods, unhealthy fats and low in fibre
  • If you previously experienced gestational diabetes when pregnant

If one or more of these risk factors is present, it doesn’t mean that the individual will definitely develop type 2 diabetes at some point. Someone who does have a higher risk currently can also take action in some areas of their diet and lifestyle to help lower their chances of developing the condition.

Symptoms and signs of type 2 diabetes in the elderly

There are several classic signs of type 2 diabetes, but identifying some symptoms can sometimes become more difficult with age, as they can often naturally accompany aging or other common conditions associated with getting older too. This can make it more of a challenge to spot that an elderly person might have the signs of type 2 diabetes.

Signs of type 2 diabetes include:

  • Feeling a lot thirstier than normal
  • Needing to go to the toilet more often than normal, especially at night
  • Feeling extremely tired
  • Blurry vision
  • If cuts, wounds or grazes seem to take longer than expected to heal
  • Losing weight, although this is not as common a symptom for type 2 diabetes.


What to do if you think your elderly loved one might have type 2 diabetes

If you know someone who shows any of the signs of type 2 diabetes, it’s important to make a GP appointment for them as soon as possible. This might be a spouse, an elderly relative or a friend, and it’s important that they are seen quickly. If type 2 diabetes isn’t treated, it can be dangerous.

Tests for type 2 diabetes usually involve a urine test and blood test to check the blood glucose levels. The GP will talk through the results and give a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes is that is what the tests have found. They will discuss treatment options, any medications they wish to prescribe and talk about lifestyle choices that could have a positive impact on the condition.

Treatment for type 2 diabetes in older adults

Type 2 diabetes is usually treated with a combination of prescribed medicine and making changes to lifestyle to help control the condition. For some older people, lifestyle changes might be more challenging, especially if they have limited mobility or other existing health conditions that stop them from being active or mean that they find it difficult to understand their diagnosis; for example, if they have dementia.

The medication that may be prescribed to help treat type 2 diabetes is usually in tablet form and is designed to help keep blood sugar at a healthy level. Some people with type 2 diabetes may also need to take insulin, but the GP will talk through the treatment plan to make sure it’s clear what needs to be taken and when.

Photo of someone living with diabetes

Living with type 2 diabetes in later life

While type 2 diabetes can usually be managed well with a combination of medication and lifestyle changes, there can be some extra considerations if the person with the condition is elderly.

Some older people experience a loss of appetite, which can mean that some of the usual dietary advice for type 2 diabetes might be more of a challenge to follow. It’s important to eat as healthy a diet as possible and make sure that meals are regular, which will help to regulate blood glucose.

Staying as active as possible is important for helping to manage type 2 diabetes in the elderly, so gentle exercises designed for seniors to do at home can be a good way to achieve this.

Type 2 diabetes can sometimes affect other illnesses that older people can experience, so there is more chance that they will be admitted to hospital if they are unwell, so that they can be better monitored than if they stayed at home. Or, if they have carers at home, extra precautions might need to be taken because blood glucose can rise quickly if they are ill.

Those with type 2 diabetes can develop problems with their legs or feet, because high blood glucose can reduce the sensation in the feet or affect the circulation. This can mean that a small cut, blister or wound on a foot might not even be noticed and can more easily get infected or cause other health issues. It’s therefore important to prioritise foot care for those with type 2 diabetes, including daily checks, and getting any issues checked out straight away. Take a look at more tips for elderly foot care.

Reversing type 2 diabetes in the elderly

Diabetes remission, which some people call type 2 diabetes reversal, is where the blood glucose levels no longer need medication to manage, as they can be controlled by healthier eating and other lifestyle changes.

In some cases, it may be possible to reverse the type 2 diabetes diagnosis over time, if the condition can be successfully managed through lifestyle and diet alone. This is less common in older people, as they can be less likely to be able to make the big changes needed, but it can sometimes be done. As every person is different, it’s important to take professional health advice on the best way to try and improve general health as part of the management plan for type 2 diabetes treatment.

Infographic showing tips to stay active in later life


Peace of mind if your older loved one has type 2 diabetes

If you have an elderly loved one who has been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, or any other health condition, it’s very natural to be concerned about them, especially if they live independently and you can’t always be there to make sure they are OK.

One option that could provide extra peace of mind is to see if a personal alarm would be a good fit for their lifestyle. These devices are essentially elderly panic alarms that can be pressed if your older loved one is feeling unwell, has had an accident or a fall, or another incident. Pressing the button will alert our emergency resolution team, who will speak to the wearer and see if they need any assistance.

GPS personal alarm

You can get personal alarms designed for the home and also alarm devices that can be worn out and out, with GPS technology so the wearer’s location is always available. Some also come with built-in elderly fall alert technology, so even if the wearer isn’t able to press the button, an alert is still raised if they have a fall.

Another option, which could potentially help to highlight changes in routine or habits that might be a cause for concern, is Taking Care Sense, a non-intrusive and wireless home monitoring system that learns your elderly loved one’s daily patterns and activities in the home and will raise an alert if something unusual happens or the activity levels change.

If you’d like to find out more about our products and find the best option for your older loved one, get in touch with our team by calling 0800 085 7371 or browse our personal alarm range.

Independent living products brochure

Learn how personal alarms and home monitoring solutions can keep you or your loved ones safe and independent at home.

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Ways to support independent living

Independent living products brochure

Learn how personal alarms and home monitoring solutions can keep you or your loved ones safe and independent at home.

Download brochure

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