Diabetes is a common health concern for those over the age of 65. It’s estimated that about 25 percent of seniors in the United States live with diabetes. Additionally, diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S. As a large part of the population ages, diabetes diagnoses are becoming more common. Along with a diabetes diagnosis comes the responsibility to make personal lifestyle changes, some of which have a financial component.
What Is Diabetes?
Diabetes occurs when the body can no longer produce insulin, a hormone that helps turn sugars from your food into energy. There are two types of diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2.
Type 1 diabetes is typically only diagnosed in children and young adults and is sometimes referred to as juvenile diabetes. Those with Type I diabetes are not able to produce insulin at all.
Type 2 diabetes means those with the disease have insulin resistance. Further, the body will need more insulin to be able to function. This is the most common form of diabetes diagnosed in older adults.
Symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes
There are many possible symptoms of Type 2 diabetes. The most common include the following.
- Increased hunger and fatigue: If your body does not produce enough insulin (or any insulin at all), you will not have energy.
- Urinating more often and increased thirst: If you find yourself visiting the restroom more often and wanting to drink more water, it could be a sign you have Type 2 diabetes.
- Dry mouth and itchy skin: Dehydration can cause your skin to become dry and itchy. This can be a result of urinating more often.
- Blurred vision: If fluid levels in your body change, they can affect your vision.
- Sores or cuts are slow to heal: Having high blood sugar can make it difficult for your body to heal.
If you experience any of these symptoms, talk to a doctor to get a diabetes screening.
There are two types of treatments for diabetes that may be used in conjunction with lifestyle changes. The first of these treatments is a pill. Pills prescribed will either help the body produce more or less insulin, depending on what your personal needs are. The medication your body needs will be determined by a medical professional.
The second type of treatment that may be necessary is insulin therapy. Insulin therapy will require you to inject insulin with a needle and syringe or an insulin pen injector.
If your body mass index (BMI) is higher than 35 and you also have diabetes, weight loss surgery could provide many benefits. It can help blood sugar levels return to normal. You can use a BMI calculator to determine your BMI.
Exercise can be an essential part of maintaining insulin levels. Physical activity can also help you maintain a healthy weight, lower blood pressure, and improve blood flow.
Try to get in at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise at least five days a week. Examples of moderate exercise programs include walking at a brisk pace, water aerobics, bicycling at less than 10 miles per hour, and light gardening. Vigorous exercises include power walking, jogging or running, aerobic dancing, heavy gardening, or hiking.
Recommended exercises for those with diabetes are aerobic exercises and strength training. Some examples of aerobic exercises are walking briskly, climbing stairs at a slow and steady pace, or taking an exercise class. If strength training interests you, you can use hand weights, elastic bands, or weight machines as opposed to heavy free weights and barbells.
Before you begin an exercise regimen, it is important to speak with your doctor about the program you are planning on using.
There is no specific diet that you should follow if you have diabetes. Having diabetes means eating healthier will allow your blood sugar to be at the levels your body needs. Eating a variety of foods from all food groups will be the most beneficial.
Eat a balanced diet consisting of vegetables, fruits, grains, protein, and dairy. Limit your intake of foods high in fat, sugar, or salt. This guideline doesn’t mean these foods are completely forbidden—just eat those foods in moderation.
Your doctor will help determine what the best meal plan is for you. You can also use the American Diabetes Association (ADA) “Create Your Plate” tool to determine what portion sizes make up the best meal combinations.
Traveling With Diabetes
While having diabetes comes along with many lifestyle changes, it doesn’t have to hold you back from doing the things you love. If diagnosed with diabetes, you can still enjoy traveling. Take some extra time to pack supplies you will need on a day-to-day basis during your trip and also for emergencies.
The ADA recommends you get a letter from your healthcare provider that lists the medications you need to take on a daily basis. Additionally, you should have a prescription for any medications you take in case of an emergency or if questioned by security officers at an airport.
Carry some sort of identification with you, such as a diabetes ID bracelet or necklace. Or, if you have a smartphone, you can have all of your health information updated on a health-tracking app.
Finally, if traveling abroad, learn how to say a few basic words and phrases in the official language of where you are traveling. Learning those words and/or phrases can help you in an emergency—for example, if you need something such as sugar or juice to help get your blood sugar back up to where it needs to be.
As a diabetes patient, you are entitled to have any required medical equipment, medication, and snacks with you on an airplane. You can review the Transportation Security Administration’s tips for those with diabetes and other illnesses here.
Insurance Coverage Basics
Shopping for a new insurance plan when you have diabetes can be a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. Insurance companies have several tools available for those with Type 2 diabetes to be able to compare plans and make an informed decision.
Insurance companies cannot deny anyone medical coverage because of pre-existing conditions, including diabetes. The majority of healthcare plans provide preventive services, such as diabetes screenings.
Insurance plans must include “essential health benefits.” Essential health benefits are things like hospitalization coverages, prescription drug cost coverage, preventative services, and chronic disease management services such as meal- or weight-loss planning.
There is no annual dollar limit on essential health benefits. Healthcare companies cannot set a limit on these costs while you have the plan.
If you have Medicare, preventive screenings are available for those with Part B coverage. Blood sugar-testing supplies are also covered by Medicare.
All insurance companies will provide you with a Summary of Benefits and Coverage. The SBC is in plain language and can help you understand what services and equipment are covered if you have Type 2 diabetes. In addition to the SBC, you can also request a glossary of terms used by insurance companies to use as a reference tool.
Many discount programs and databases are available for those with diabetes. These tools are especially helpful if you are a senior with limited income. For example, BenefitsCheckUp, provided by the National Council on Aging, can provide information on how to help pay for prescription drugs and other healthcare and lifestyle needs.
Tools to Help Manage Your Diabetes
If you’re technologically savvy, there are apps designed for both iPhones and Android devices to help you manage your diabetes. For example, one app called Glooko can help track your medicine usage, carbohydrate counts, and other lifestyle information. You can also pair it with a fitness tracker or glucose monitor. Subscriptions cost $59.99 per year to use all the features in the application.
Another smartphone app called Health2Sync works like Glooko, but it is free. You can keep track of your treatment plan and review the history of your blood pressure, weight, and blood glucose monitoring.
If you don’t have a smartphone but still want to digitally manage your diabetes, the ADA has a tool on its website called Diabetes 24/7. This tool allows you to store your data online as well as print the information, if needed.
Paper management systems are also an option for those who prefer to keep physical records or don’t have access to a computer or smartphone. Integrated Diabetes Services offers free editable and printable diabetes logbooks.
Choose the resources that will best help you manage your lifestyle changes. These resources can help ensure you are being consistent in your treatment. There are also organizations in your community that can help you find resources, hold fundraisers, or increase awareness of diabetes in your area.
There is no cure for diabetes, but living with the disease is manageable with the proper medical and self-care. The best thing you can do to help manage diabetes is to follow your doctor’s advice, eat a healthy diet, and stay active.
If your insurance plan doesn’t provide the coverage you need for diabetes—or if you don’t have health coverage—call a licensed HealthMarkets agent. We’re here to help you sift through all the information out there to find a plan that works for you and your family. Call us at (800) 304-3414, or search for an agent near you today.