June 26th, 2012 at 4:19 pm
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Unchecked diabetes in elders can cause mental decline

by Dorian Martin

I always see the human body as a system in which one disease can affect several parts of the body. A new study underscores this belief. The study found that older adults who have diabetes and who are not able to control their blood sugar levels are at an increased risk for greater decline in their cognitive abilities.

Diabetes leads to mental decline?

Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco and the San Francisco VA Medical Center followed 3,069 participants who were, on average, 74 years old. Almost a quarter of study participants had diabetes when the study started. During the duration of the study, 159 of the 2,300 participants who didn’t start off with diabetes developed it.

The researchers found that participant who had diabetes at the start of the study didn’t perform as well on an initial cognitive assessment as participants who did not have the disease. Furthermore, the participants with diabetes displayed greater declines in mental function than those without diabetes in the follow-up assessment.

Prevent mental decline in elders through blood sugar control

This study reinforces why it’s so important to help elders manage their diabetes. The Mayo Clinic recommends that the elder and caregivers maintain awareness about what impacts the blood sugar level and how to keep this level consistent. The Mayo Clinic recommends the following nine steps:

  1. Eat a healthy diet. The elder should eat a healthy diet with well-balanced meals on a specific schedule.
  2. Coordinate medications and food. The elder’s meals and medications should be coordinated since eating too little food with diabetes medications can lead to dangerously low blood sugar levels.
  3. Exercise regularly. The elder should exercise regularly to lower blood sugar levels.
  4. Drink water. The elder should drink lots of water when exercising; otherwise, dehydration can cause changes in blood sugar levels.
  5. Keep snacks and glucose tablets on hand. The elder should carry a small snack or glucose pill when exercising in case he experiences a sudden blood sugar drop. Also, the elder should wear a medical identification bracelet.
  6. Review medications periodically. New medications taken to treat another condition — whether prescribed or over the counter — can affect blood sugar levels. Therefore, talk to the doctor or pharmacist about potential issues.
  7. Have a sick-day plan. Illness can increase the level of blood sugar. The elder should continue to take diabetes medications and adhere to the meal plan. Also, the health care team can work with the elder and the caregivers to create a sick-day plan.
  8. Watch alcohol, caloric and carbohydrate intake. If the elder drinks alcohol regularly, be sure that the doctor is aware. Also, carefully select drinks to limit calories and carbohydrates.
  9. Minimize stress. Stress also can prevent insulin from working properly. Work with the elder to determine any patterns that are causing stress and help the elder learn new strategies to cope, such as relaxation techniques, setting limits and prioritizing tasks.

By staying on top of their blood sugar levels, elders can minimize the effects of diabetes on not only their health, but their cognitive well-being as well.

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