A study showed that almost 100,000 people visit the ER each year because of diabetes. In the study, 96% of those ER visits were related to hypoglycemia, or low blood glucose. People over 80 are more than twice as likely to go to the ER as those between 45 and 64 years, and they are five times more likely to be admitted to the hospital.
Many older people take insulin. Some of them have been taking insulin for most of their lives (those with type 1 diabetes) and some have been taking insulin for a shorter time (those with type 2 who progressed over time to needing insulin and for whom oral medications no longer work, and those who developed diabetes later in life and don’t make enough insulin).
While some people may be able to stop taking insulin later in life, many will have symptoms of high blood glucose if they do so. The goal of managing diabetes in the elderly is to keep blood glucose levels in a range that is safe (not too low or too high) and does not cause symptoms. High blood glucose can cause frequent urination, dehydration, weight loss, blurred vision, and lack of energy. Elderly people may already be dealing with any number of these and certainly don’t need to add to them. Blood glucose levels that are too high or too low can also put older people at increased risk for falling.
It is important to work with a health care professional to “relax” diabetes management later in life, which means keeping blood glucose levels in a wider range. There is no longer a concern about developing diabetes-related complications when someone is over 80, therefore, running blood glucose levels higher is not as worrisome. The most important thing is that the person is safe and comfortable.