Making the Home Safer for Seniors with Diabetes


Diabetes is so common that if you don’t have it, it’s quite likely you know someone who does. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than 37 million people in the United States have diabetes right now and 96 million more have prediabetes. What’s even more stunning than those numbers is that one in five of those with diabetes don’t know they have it, and a whopping 80% of those with prediabetes are unaware that they have that, either.

Over the past two decades, the number of adults diagnosed with diabetes has more than doubled and is now the 7th leading cause of death in the United States – probably. That’s because deaths as a result of diabetes are often underreported[1].

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes occurs when your body doesn’t make enough insulin or doesn’t use insulin as it should. When you eat something, most of the food is broken down by your body into glucose (a type of sugar), which then enters your bloodstream. Your body recognizes the sugar in the blood and triggers the pancreas to release insulin. Insulin is a hormone that lets the sugar into the body’s cells, thus providing them with the energy the cells need. There are different types of diabetes[2]:

·         Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the pancreas simply stops producing insulin. These individuals make up about 5-10% of those who are diagnosed. Type 1 diabetes usually starts in childhood or early adulthood. Those with type 1 diabetes must take artificial insulin to stay alive.

·         Type 2 diabetes occurs when your body still produces insulin but doesn’t produce enough, or your body doesn’t use it properly. This makes up about 90-95% of all diagnosed cases. These individuals might need insulin to keep their blood sugar levels under control, or they might be able to do it with oral medications or injections that help their body use insulin in better ways.

·         Prediabetes is when your blood sugar levels are higher than they should be, but not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes. Prediabetes is a warning sign that you are headed in that direction, however, and gives you the opportunity for lifestyle changes that can help you avoid a diabetes diagnosis[3].

·         Gestational diabetes occurs when someone who is pregnant experiences high blood sugars. Since high blood sugar can lead to complications for mother and child, these individuals will often take medications during the pregnancy that will bring down the numbers. In the vast majority of cases, gestational diabetes resolves after the mother gives birth[4].

No matter the type of diabetes, there can be some common complications that can inhibit your independence and safety in the home. Those complications are why it’s a very good idea to invest in a personal alarm button right now. Though most issues with diabetes don’t arise until after you have had the disease for many years, it’s often impossible to know how long you have had it already – and it might be difficult to predict the progression. For instance, issues with your vision can happen very quickly, and that can change life as you know it within a matter of days or weeks. Making the choice now to protect yourself with senior life-saving medical alert systems, even if you are showing no signs of the consequences of long-term diabetes yet, is a smart move that will give you the peace of mind you need to focus on staying healthy.

Diabetes Can Cause Nerve Damage

Over time, diabetes can affect the peripheral nerves, such as those in your feet and fingertips. According to the Mayo Clinic, it’s the legs and feet that are most strongly affected by this damage, known as diabetic neuropathy. The result is different for everyone but can include pain, burning, or tingling in the affected area, or even numbness. This means walking can become painful or difficult. And that can easily lead to falls. For peace of mind, talk to your doctor about medications that might stop the sensations of diabetic neuropathy, keep your blood sugar under control, and wear your medical alert pendant – especially one with a fall detection sensor – at all times.

Diabetes Can Affect Your Hearing

You might be surprised to learn that diabetes can adversely affect your hearing. The National Institute of Health reports that hearing loss happens twice as often in those who have diabetes, and even those with prediabetes can suffer hearing loss of up to 30%. The good news is that aging in place house plans can make life much easier for everyone in the home, even those who don’t have hearing loss or diabetes. For instance, smoke alarms that signal with a flashing strobe light, doorbells that signal with a bright light, and even telephones with strong vibration can help keep you independent and safe.

Diabetes Can Cause Vision Problems

This is one of the better-known consequences of long-term diabetes. Diabetic retinopathy is one of the top concerns; as high blood sugar weakens small blood vessels, it can lead to fluid leaking from the vessels and swelling in the eye. This can lead to blurry vision. In addition, those with diabetes are 40% more likely to develop glaucoma and 60% more likely to develop cataracts. Unfortunately, diabetes is the leading cause of blindness among those between the ages of 20 and 74[5]. If you are showing any signs of vision problems, get treatment immediately, and start implementing aging in place solutions now to help you with worsening vision problems later. Vision problems obviously contribute significantly to falls, so it’s important to wear your medical alert watch or pendant at all times, even when in the shower.

Other Issues with Diabetes

Diabetes can also cause other problems that can affect your long-term health. Diabetes increases the chances of cardiovascular disease, heart attack, stroke, or coronary artery disease. The tiny blood vessels in the kidneys can be damaged, leading to a decrease in kidney function; if it gets bad enough, severe kidney failure can result, necessitating the need for dialysis or a transplant.

Issues with your skin are also possible. Wounds don’t heal as quickly, which can lead to infections. If those infections occur on the extremities, such as the toes or the feet, they might be much more difficult to treat, and might lead to amputation. Systemic bacterial and fungal infections are also more common.

Low blood sugar can easily lead to fainting. This condition, known as hypoglycemia, can result if you are taking insulin but not eating enough, if you have a problem with a particular diabetes medication, if you get too much exercise and not enough food, and more. The importance of a medical alert system can’t be stressed enough, especially if you are someone who struggles with hypoglycemia on a regular basis.

Finally, studies have shown that Type 2 diabetes might increase the risk of dementia. The higher your overall blood sugar, the greater the risk seems to be. Going hand-in-hand with mental health is depression, which many with diabetes tend to suffer from[6].

Keeping Your Home Safe and Convenient

Even if your diabetes is well-managed, you should still make plans to keep your home as safe as possible. There are some basic things you can do to help ensure better safety; depending upon your particular situation and what diabetes is doing to your body, you can speak to an aging in place specialist about options that are tailored to you. In the meantime, remember these basics:

·         Remove all throw rugs. Larger rugs should be securely taped down or affixed to the floor.

·         Stair treads should be covered in a non-slip, non-skid material.

·         Remove thresholds at doorways, if possible, to create a smooth, even surface.

·         Consider using ramps over any outdoor stairs.

·         Look into the option of a walk-in tub or a walk-in shower.

·         Install grab bars around the toilet and other areas of the bathroom.

·         Ensure ample lighting in your home, from overhead lights to lamps.

But as someone with diabetes, your needs go further than aging in place home modifications. Consider these questions about your home:

·         Do you have an adequate place for exercise? Those with diabetes are often advised to include exercise in their daily self-management of the disease. If you can’t get outside or go to the gym, try to find a dedicated place in your home where you can set up a treadmill or even a yoga mat.

·         Is your home free of clutter? Diabetes can come along with a lot of supplies and paperwork. A clutter-free home can help you keep track of everything you need to control your blood sugar.

·         Do you have a place to store those supplies?  There could be many types of supplies for those with diabetes. Most of us are familiar with blood glucose monitors, testing strips, lancets, and similar items necessary to test blood sugar. But you might also have oral medications, insulin vials, syringes, an insulin pump and all the supplies necessary for that, diabetic/orthopedic shoes, special foods, and more. Investing in a variety of storage options, from supply chests to medication reminder systems, can help you stay organized and healthy.

·         Do you have a medical alarm? It’s essential to get in touch with emergency services if you have a diabetic emergency, such as a low blood sugar that won’t resolve with juice or medications. It’s especially important to look at medical alert systems with fall detection, as sometimes a low blood sugar can lead to fainting.

A Word About Insulin Storage

If you are on insulin or using some other sort of injectable drug to treat diabetes, you need to have a proper way to store those items. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends keeping insulin at a temperature between 36 and 46 degrees Fahrenheit. Once you open the insulin, use it within a few weeks to help ensure it’s still fully effective. Extreme temperatures can affect the efficacy of insulin, which can lead to life-threatening problems. Try to never use insulin that has been stored at greater than 86 degrees Fahrenheit for any length of time. Never use insulin that has been frozen.

Refrigerators tend to have fluctuations in temperature. These might be occasional fluctuations or they might be permanent, such as one shelf being much colder than another. To ensure the insulin is at the temperature it should be, consider using a thermometer inside the refrigerator to show you at a glance that your insulin is always at the proper temperature[7]. And as always, Alert1 wishes you good health and much safety!