What is diabetes?

Diabetes mellitus is a group of disease characterized by high levels of blood glucose (sugar) that result from defects in the way insulin is produced and used by the body. What this means is that when we eat food, it is turned into glucose for our bodies to use as energy. The pancreas then produces a hormone called insulin to help get the glucose into our cells. If a person is a diabetic, their body cannot make enough insulin or use the insulin that it does make as well as it should. This causes the glucose to build up in their body, resulting in a variety of serious and often life threatening conditions.

Who is affected?

Diabetes occurs in every age group, from young children to the elderly. In adults over 65, nearly one in five have the disease. Once a person is diagnosed as a diabetic, it is very important that they learn how to manage and control the disease. That’s because diabetes, like all chronic conditions, will get progressively worse and lead to serious health complications unless it is properly treated. Because diabetes can never be “cured”, the key to success in controlling diabetes rests in early detection, proper continuing medical care, and lifestyle changes.

What complications are caused by diabetes?

Many of the chronic health conditions that affect older adults will either be brought on sooner by diabetes, or become more serious health threats in people with diabetes. For example:

  • Heart Disease – Adults with diabetes have heart disease death rates that are two to four times higher than for those without the disease. In fact, heart disease is the leading cause of death among diabetes.
  • High Blood Pressure – Almost two out of every three people who have diabetes also have high blood pressure, which is a leading risk factor for stroke.
  • Stroke – The risk of having a stroke is two to four times higher for diabetics.
  • Kidney Disease – Diabetes accounts for approximately 40% of all deaths from kidney disease.
  • Amputation – The majority of all lower limb amputations in the U.S. are performed on people who have diabetes.

There are also many other ways that diabetes either causes or contributes to health problems. A person with uncontrolled diabetes is more susceptible to infectious diseases such as pneumonia or the flu. They often have trouble with sores that won’t heal, and frequently lack the energy to enjoy their lives fully.

What are the warning signs?

If you suspect that you have diabetes or any disease, it is important to visit your doctor for a diagnosis. Many people with diabetes experience some of the following symptoms:

  • Frequent urination
  • Excessive thirst
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Extreme hunger
  • Sudden vision changes
  • Tingling or numbness in hands or feet
  • Feeling tired much of the time
  • Sores that heal slowly
  • More infections than usual

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, be sure to notify your doctor.

Where can you get the care you need?

If you think you or someone you know has diabetes or any chronic condition, the first thing to do is to visit a doctor. After that, if you have diabetes, depending on your particular circumstances and needs, there are several programs that are designed to provide you with continuing health care services and support. These programs offer a coordinated care team of professionals that include nurses, dieticians, social workers and therapists – all working with your doctor to make sure you get the care you need. Listed below are a few of the kinds of programs available right here in your neighborhood, most of which accept Medicaid.

Adult Day Health Care – For older adults who are at home all day and would like to have an opportunity to socialize while being in a medically supervised environment. Adult Day Health Care provides experienced professionals who can take care of daily health needs, including monitoring blood glucose levels and helping with medications.

Long Term Home Health Care – Designed for people whose medical condition makes it difficult for them to leave their homes. Home care provides a complete team of health care professionals that come directly to your home and provide care in accordance with an appropriate treatment plan as directed by your doctor.

In-Residence Facilities – Offering services to people who need either short-term or long-term, 24-hour skilled nursing supervision, rehabilitation or help with daily living activities. Many of these facilities have diabetes management programs that can provide specialized care for the advanced stages of the disease and can treat related complications.

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