Our bodies use energy from food in order to carry out everyday functions. Once digested, this energy is in the form of glucose or blood sugar. Blood sugar levels dip and peak in relation to eating patterns and types of foods eaten. This cycle is maintained by the hormone insulin. However, older adults and individuals with diabetes have difficulty controlling their blood sugar levels.
High blood sugar, otherwise known as hyperglycemia, occurs when the body has too little insulin or can’t use insulin properly to digest the sugar from carbohydrates into energy or store for future use. There are several causes of hyperglycemia:
- not giving yourself enough insulin when you have type 1 diabetes,
- if you have type 2 diabetes and your body cannot use the insulin it produces,
- or you have stress from an illness or other personal reasons.
Older adults often have more trouble controlling blood sugar levels because their bodies’ don’t function as efficiently.
Signs and symptoms of hyperglycemia include: high blood glucose, high levels of sugar in your urine, frequent urination, headaches, fatigue, dry mouth, and excessive thirst. Uncontrolled blood sugar levels includes low blood sugar or hypoglycemia as well. This condition can cause people to feel hungry, shaky, confused, irritable, fatigued, and lightheaded. Neither low nor high blood sugar levels are desirable.
In the long run, uncontrolled blood sugar can irreversibly damage the vessels that supply blood to important organs, such as the heart, kidneys, eyes, and nerves. Therefore, it’s equally important to avoid low blood sugar as well as high blood sugar levels.
Controlling your blood sugar levels can help keep you healthy and prevent serious health concerns in the future. Some tips include:
- Take your diabetes medication: If you’re on insulin, make sure you take the right amount based on the grams of carbohydrates you eat balanced with daily exercise and always go in for checkups to talk with your doctor about your regimen.
- Track your blood sugar levels: Checking your levels often and at varying times of the day will help establish patterns of blood glucose. These patterns can indicate how certain foods, meals, stress, illness, or other activities can affect blood sugar levels. It’s crucial to check your blood sugar before and after meals in order to know how much insulin or other medication to take.
- Increase physical activity: Keep your body moving even if it’s just going for walk. Exercise burns energy and can lower blood sugar levels as well as help your body become more sensitive to the insulin it produces. If you haven’t exercised in a while, consider beginning with five to ten minutes of daily physical activity and gradually increase to at least 30 minutes most days of the week.
- Achieve and maintain a healthy weight: Even a 5 to 7 percent weight loss will help you better manage your blood glucose. This can be achieved by incorporating more high-fiber fruits and vegetables as well as lean proteins into your diet and cutting back on foods that contain more sugar and unhealthy fats.
- Get more high quality sleep: Poor or limited sleep affects body chemistry, while getting more slumber helps with blood sugar control. Lack of sleep is also linked with other health conditions, including heart disease, stroke and cancer. Aim for at least 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night.
- Avoid spikes and dips in blood sugar: This can be accomplished by eating healthy consistently, selecting foods high in fiber, practicing portion control, and consuming more non-starchy vegetables. If you do start to experience symptoms of low blood sugar, eat or drink something that will offer a quick dose of glucose, such as hard candy, sugar-sweetened soda, orange juice, or a glass of milk. Once you feel yourself returning to normal, make sure to eat a small snack with more complex carbohydrates that will digest more slowly. This could include a sandwich, cheese and crackers, or fruit.
At Traditions Senior Living communities, the meals provided by our cafe workers and cafeterias are healthy, satisfying foods that align with heart-healthy diets. We keep a close eye on senior nutrition to ensure the continued well-being of residents.