August 30th, 2010 at 12:30 pm
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Diabetic Elders’ Fluctuating Blood Glucose Symptoms

by Isabel Fawcett, SPHR

Night falls and it is any caregiver’s guess whether an elder in our care will be ready to go to sleep, or not. Some elders are light sleepers. Other elders have restless nights, in some instances complicated by restless legs syndrome. Last night, my mother’s blood glucose skyrocketed. All bets are off for restful sleep when that happens, including for my diabetic mother, and/or me.

I will always remember the sage advice of a long-ago Director of Emergency Medical Services in my county. “When a diabetic seems to be slowing down and not saying very much, his or her blood sugar may be dropping,” he said, in his infinite EMS wisdom. Conversely, he said, “When a diabetic starts talking ‘crazy’ and acting confused, check for elevated blood sugar.”

The EMS Director quickly tried to explain and apologize for his informal choice of the word ‘crazy,’ by telling me he didn’t mean it literally. No need for him to explain, actually. I know exactly what he means. I’m a caregiver to a diabetic. Diabetes is also a part of my family medical history. I recognize that ‘crazy’ translates to the mental fog and cognitive confusion that may accompany elevated blood sugars.

One of my long-ago colleagues who is an elderly diabetic and a breast cancer survivor shared her story, at once funny, and entirely scary. When we worked together, she was in her early 70’s.

She had been to a routine Friday doctor’s appointment with her endocrinologist. Later that Friday night, as she relaxed at home with her husband, she received a late night call from her frantic physician. Her physician asked her how she was feeling. “Fine,” she said. The doctor asked whether she had driven back to work after her medical appointment with him. “Yes, I did, Dr.,” she replied. After a series of additional clarifying questions from the doctor, my former colleague reasonably became alarmed.

She finally mustered the courage to ask her doctor whether he was concerned about anything in particular having to do with her health. The doctor’s reply was, “Are you having any difficulty seeing?…Can you see?” Turns out that my then-colleague’s blood glucose was off the charts high – well over 400. The ideal blood glucose target is circa 106, plus, or minus a few points. She was fine, after her in-office blood sugar reading, much to her doctor’s disbelief.

In reality, my former colleague merely dodged a bullet. Diabetes is not always so kind to individuals.

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