Kingsbury Grist Mill in Medfield/Photo by Douglas Flynn

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention define diabetes as a disease in which blood glucose levels are above normal.

Most of the food we eat is turned into glucose, or sugar, for our bodies to use for energy. The pancreas, an organ that lies near the stomach, makes a hormone called insulin to help glucose get into the cells of our bodies. When you have diabetes, your body either doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t use its own insulin as well as it should. This causes sugar to build up in your blood.

When diabetes is left uncontrolled, it can cause complications such as blindness, kidney failure, heart disease, and loss of toes, feet and even legs. Diabetes can be controlled by keeping blood sugar levels within a normal range, eating well and being physically active.

What caregivers should know about diabetes

There are two main types of diabetes. In type 1, the body makes little or no insulin. This kind of diabetes usually develops in children and young adults and accounts for just 5% of all diagnosed cases. People with type 1 diabetes must have insulin delivered by injection or a pump to survive.

In type 2 diabetes, the body makes insulin, but doesn’t use it the right way. This is the most common form of diabetes, accounting for 90-95% of all diagnosed cases. It is sometimes referred to as adult-onset diabetes as it usually develops after age 20. The risk of developing type 2 diabetes increases as you age, and your chance of getting it is higher if you are overweight, inactive or have a family history of the disease. Most people with type 2 diabetes can control their blood glucose level by following a healthy diet and exercise program, losing excess weight and taking oral medication, though some may also need insulin.

Some other important facts about diabetes to keep in mind:

  • In 2010, 10.9 million Americans age 65 and older, 26.9% of the population in that age range, had diabetes. Another 50% of American age 65 and over had prediabetes, which is a condition indicating that a person has higher than normal blood glucose levels and is at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease and strokes. Overall, 25.8 million people (8.3% of the total U.S. population) are estimated to have diabetes, along with 79 million adults with prediabetes.
  • From 1990 through 2010 the annual number of new cases of diagnosed diabetes nearly tripled, and a 2010 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention projected that one in three U.S. adults could have diabetes in 2050 if current trends continue.
  • Diabetes is the seventh-leading cause of death in the United States. In 2007, it was the underlying cause in 71,382 deaths and a contributing cause to another 160,022 deaths. The risk of death among people with diabetes is about twice that of people of similar age without diabetes.
  • Minorities are at a much higher risk of developing diabetes, with Hispanics 66% more likely to develop the disease and African-Americans 77% more likely.
  • In 2007, diabetes associated costs in the United States totaled $174 billion, including $116 billion in direct medical costs and $58 billion in indirect costs such as lost productivity. Average medical expenditures among people with diagnosed diabetes were 2.3 times higher than what expenditures would be in the absence of diabetes.

What MetroWest caregivers should know

Help and information is close at hand as the American Diabetes Association’s New England chapter is located right here in MetroWest with its office in Framingham.

American Diabetes Association New England Chapter
10 Speen Street, 2nd Floor
Framingham, MA 01701
Phone: 617-482-4580
Fax: 508-626-4260

In nearby Boston, the Joslin Diabetes Center, which is affiliated with Harvard Medical School, has a Geriatric Diabetes Program that caters to the needs of older patients with diabetes. The Joslin Diabetes Center website notes that “older patients have unique challenges in managing their diabetes” and that they “welcome and encourage family member and caregiver participation during patient visits.”

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