5 tips to help prevent and manage diabetes in pandemic times

Excerpt: Older adults need to be proactive in addressing pandemic-associated risks that can make early detection and control of type 2 diabetes more challenging. New knowledge about lifestyle measures to prevent, reverse and manage diabetes, and setting age-appropriate blood sugar control targets, can lead to better health outcomes. New tools such as smart phone apps and flash glucose monitoring can also support better blood sugar and diabetes management.

World Diabetes Day* is on November 14, the birthday of Sir Frederick Banting, who co-discovered insulin along with Charles Best at the University of Toronto in 1921.* A century later, older adults living with type 2 diabetes need to be proactive in managing the increased risks to their health associated with the pandemic.

Those who are infected with COVID-19 have a much higher risk of developing severe complications,* according to a Lancet study, which highlights the critical importance of double vaccination and following other safety precautions.

The pandemic has also exacerbated risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes, such as unhealthy eating and less physical activity,* says Diabetes Canada. Reduced access to diabetes care has made it harder to detect pre-diabetes and diabetes early, and act to prevent or manage diabetes effectively.* In the United Kingdom, for example, over six million diabetes tests were missed in six months, representing over 700,000 missed prediabetes and diabetes diagnoses,* reported the European Association for the Study of Diabetes.

New tools and knowledge about diabetes prevention and management can help seniors to address these risks and stay healthy:

  1. Stand more, sit less. Standing longer each day is associated with better insulin sensitivity,* reported a 2021 Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport study. Regular standing breaks to reduce sitting time can help to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, especially for less active people.

  2. Prevent or reverse diabetes. Older adults at high risk for diabetes who exercised 150 minutes a week and ate less fat and fewer calories cut their type 2 diabetes risk by 71%,* reported a National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases study. A Lancet study found type 2 diabetes could potentially be reversed through medically supported weight loss.* Nearly 90% of people who lost 15 kilograms put their type 2 diabetes into remission.

  3. Set age-appropriate blood sugar control goals. Diabetes is a condition where both high and low blood sugar levels can be harmful to the body. New diabetes guidelines advise that for older adults—and especially those at high risk for hypoglycemia—blood sugar targets (often measured as a specific hemoglobin A1c level) should not be as tightly controlled or low as for younger adults,* according to Harvard Medical School. This can help to reduce the risks of low blood sugars, leading to weakness, dizziness and falls.*

  4. Use an app to help control blood sugar. Smart phone apps such as Sugar Sense, Diabetes Connect, Fooducate and Glucose Buddy can help you track blood sugar levels, carbs, weight, and blood pressure to better monitor and manage diabetes.*

  5. Consider flash glucose monitoring. Flash glucose monitoring is a method of blood sugar testing that measures, displays, and continuously stores glucose readings that are recorded automatically.* This gives people with diabetes a more complete picture of their glucose control, which can give an early warning of potential hypoglycemia and potentially lead to better treatment decisions and health outcomes.*