About 1 in 4 over 65 have some form of diabetes. Have you checked?

Diabetes is bad news for ageing. Overall, diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death in 2016, and the number of people with diabetes has gone up almost 400% from 1980 to 2014! Since seniors have a much higher risk of diabetes, they should take particular care to get tested regularly. Most importantly, if you are diagnosed with diabetes or pre-diabetes, you should follow your doctor’s advice and take steps to change your lifestyle immediately.

How do you know you have diabetes? Well, these are the usual warning signs to look out for.

  • Urinating frequently
  • Feeling thirsty frequently
  • Feeling hungry even if you are eating normally
  • Lack of energy or fatigue
  • Blurry vision
  • Wounds that would not heal or heal slowly
  • Unusual weight loss or even gain

If you have one or more of the above warning signs, go see your doctor.

However, if you are over 65, you should not wait for the warning signs before getting tested for diabetes. Here is a test that you can do at home with a standard blood glucose meter that you can purchase from your local pharmacy. Ask your pharmacist how to use the device – most pharmacists will be happy to teach you. The test is simple. Take a reading before breakfast (and having not eaten anything late at night or taken any food for about 8 hours). Your ideal reading is between 4.0 to 8.0 mmol/l. After your meal, wait two hours and test again. Your ideal reading should be between 6.0 to 10.0 mmol/l. You may want to repeat this test at home several times to get an average reading. If your readings are out of the recommended ranges, you should consult your doctor for further tests. Remember that doing this at home should not replace being tested by your doctor regularly.

HBA1c or glycosylated haemoglobin test is one that does not require fasting but has to be done at the clinic – either taking blood and sending to the lab or a test done on the spot that can give you instant results. HbA1c is your average blood glucose (sugar) levels for the last two to three months — so it is not a test that you can “cheat” easily. While recommended as a diagnostic tool to control diabetes, it does give you a good idea of what is happening with your blood sugar over a longer time period. Less than 6.0% would be considered excellent, 6.0%-8.0% would be satisfactory and anything over 8.0% would be poor – according to SGH website. Talk to your doctor about the HBA1c test. Normally, the HBA1c test should only be done once every 3-6 months.

Remember, if you are a senior, you are already at risk and should not wait to be diagnosed. Here are some good advise to consider.

  • Because your condition can change, buy a blood glucose meter and test at home. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about how to do that and how often. Keeping track of your own blood glucose regularly is helpful and tells you what your are doing right in controlling your glucose levels.
  • Choose your food wisely. Cut down significantly on sugar and fat. You probably do not have to go cold turkey so if you have to eat ice-cream, eat just enough to satisfy your craving with a spoon or two!
  • Control you weight is key to preventing or controlling diabetes. Weight loss will improve your diabetes and general health.
  • Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day will do wonders and it does not mean going to the gym or doing something strenuous. Get out there and walk for 30 minutes each day after dinner. Or better yet, get a tracker and set yourself a daily target – 10,000 steps would be ideal.

Remember that diabetes is a chronic disease that happens slowly – so you may not even notice it until it is too late. Damage to your body happens over time – that’s why it is so important that as a senior, you test regularly.

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