When Age is More Than a Number

Monday, 3 June 2019

In 2017, over one in seven Australians were aged 65 or over. As you age, your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and its complications increases and how you manage diabetes can become more complex. You may even have other health issues that you need medications for that affect your diabetes management. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed but there are a variety of support services available that can help, plus a range of alternative medications that may work better for you as your circumstances change.

At first

When you’re first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, your blood glucose levels can often be maintained at normal levels through lifestyle changes and/or one or more oral glucose lowering medications, although insulin may eventually be required as time goes by.

Diabetes can result in many short- and long- term health conditions, including heart attack and stroke, kidney damage, vision loss, nerve damage, and slow wound healing (which can lead to lower limb amputation). These complications are largely preventable, but early diagnosis and management of your blood glucose levels is important to prevent, delay or slow their progression.


Looking after type 2 diabetes if you are older and using other medications is more complex. For older people, the benefits of intensive glucose control needs to be weighed against associated risks, such as the impact of medications on the kidneys and the risk of interaction with other medicines used for managing multiple conditions.

If, when, or how often you check your blood glucose levels depends on your needs, and is ideally decided with your diabetes healthcare team. This will depend on your health status, other conditions you’re living with, blood glucose targets, current medicines, and your quality of life.


All glucose-lowering medications, like any other medications, have side effects. Having routine blood tests will uncover any kidney, liver, or other issues. This will inform your doctor as to the medicines that are safe for you to use to manage your blood glucose levels, and prevent or delay long-term complications.

If you’re experiencing side effects such as low blood glucose levels, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, or changes in your appetite or body weight, speak with your doctor to discuss alternative medications. There’s never been so many options available.

Healthy eating

Speak with your doctor (and ask for a referral to a dietitian) if you lose your appetite or have problems with your mouth, teeth or swallowing. Losing weight as you age can do more harm than good. If you lose muscle, it can affect your ability to move around and increase your risk of falls.

Physical activity

Exercise is good for everyone, especially older people. Remember to obtain medical clearance if you’re new to exercise. It may seem difficult, but with the help of an exercise physiologist or physiotherapist, you can start, or increase, your physical activity gradually and safely.

Emotional wellbeing

Looking after your emotional wellbeing is as important to maintain as you age as any other time of your life. If you live with diabetes you’re more likely to develop depression/anxiety, and vice versa. Unfortunately, anxiety tends to be viewed as a weakness in character by some, rather than a health problem. If you’re feeling down for more than a few days, don’t hesitate to speak with your doctor. Anxiety and depression are like any other health condition, the sooner they’re diagnosed, and the quicker they’re treated, the less likely they will affect the quality of your life. This means you’ll be back to living your life and managing your diabetes in no time at all.

Lastly, remember that we’re here for you. If you have any questions about this article, or your diabetes, please call us on the NDSS Helpline 1300 136 588.

Useful resources

Download these useful booklets.

Healthy eating

This booklet provides information about healthy eating and food choices for older people living with diabetes. As we get older, staying nourished and maintaining healthy eating habits can be challenging. Our lifestyles and appetites can change and chronic conditions such as diabetes can take up our time and energy, and affect our food choices.

Healthcare team

It is not always easy to find your way around the health system. You need to work out who can help you with health issues and maintaining your wellbeing. Also, as you get older you may have more health issues to deal with, which can add extra challenges. This booklet is designed to help you understand the health system and make it easier for you to manage your diabetes.

Managing diabetes as you age

Diabetes care is generally the same no matter how old you are. However, there are some specific changes that happen with age and these might affect your diabetes. You may have had diabetes for a long time, and in your later years you could have other health issues. This booklet gives you information to help you manage your diabetes as you grow older.


Me is all about what you need to do for yourself, managing your diabetes and doing what you can.

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