A Diabetes Care Guide for Seniors | MemoryCare.com

A Diabetes Care Guide for Seniors

If you or a loved one has been living with diabetes, you understand the importance of monitoring blood glucose levels, following healthy habits and enlisting medical support. However, some aspects of diabetes management can become more difficult as you age. Proper foot care, regular exercise and nutritious meals are just a few things that seniors may neglect due to physical or mental challenges. 

Uncontrolled diabetes can contribute to several health problems, including poor circulation of the legs and feet, nerve damage, blindness and kidney failure. These problems can, in turn, lead to additional complications.

Senior living communities offer residents an active support network and a variety of care options specific to diabetes control. By reducing or eliminating some of the challenges of diabetes management, these communities make it easier for you or your loved one to experience a vibrant, independent life.

This guide covers some basic facts on diabetes, including its relationship to Alzheimer’s and dementia and the importance of healthy living habits to reduce further health risks. You’ll also learn how senior living communities help with diabetes care and discover what to look for when choosing a community of your own.

A Diabetes Care Guide for Seniors

How Diabetes Affects Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Cognitive skills refer to how your brain processes information, specifically using your brain to think, reason, speak and remember. Loss of cognitive skills is common in individuals with Alzheimer’s and dementia. A link also exists between diabetes and cognitive decline since many of the risk factors of diabetes are directly related to the causes of cognitive decline.

How Diabetes Affects Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Cognitive skills refer to how your brain processes information, specifically using your brain to think, reason, speak and remember. Loss of cognitive skills is common in individuals with Alzheimer’s and dementia. A link also exists between diabetes and cognitive decline since many of the risk factors of diabetes are directly related to the causes of cognitive decline.

Risk Factors of DiabetesCauses of Cognitive Decline
Heart disease and strokeDamaged blood vessels in the brain
Insulin and chemical instabilityChemical imbalance in the brain
Inflammation due to high blood sugar levelsImpaired brain cells caused by inflammation

The Alzheimer’s Association recaps the following study results concerning links between Alzheimer’s, dementia and diabetes:

  • Individuals with Type 1 diabetes have a greater risk of developing dementia
  • High blood sugar levels and Alzheimer’s share an increase in a similar protein
  • Brain cells of those with Type 2 diabetes indicate elevated levels of insulin resistance
  • The protein gene involved in Alzheimer’s also affects the insulin pathway

Scientists continue to look at ways to predict and lessen cognitive decline as we age, regardless of chronic diseases like diabetes. Fortunately, the same lifestyle changes that can improve the quality of life of you or a loved one with diabetes can also help reduce the risk of dementia.

Healthy Habits That Can Help Seniors Prevent or Manage Diabetes

The American Heart Association has revised its Simple 7 approach to a healthy heart and cardiovascular system by adding one more component — sleep. Together, these Life’s Essential 8 Habits can help you or a loved one experience a healthier future: 

  • Eat a well-balanced, low-fat diet
  • Exercise regularly
  • Avoid nicotine
  • Enjoy good sleep habits
  • Check blood pressure measurements
  • Manage blood sugar levels (if you’re diabetic or prediabetic)
  • Control cholesterol levels
  • Maintain a healthy weight

When you look at these eight lifestyle behaviors, it’s easy to see why living in a senior community is an advantage. Residents have access to tasty, nutritious food, exercise classes and equipment and staff members who can help them track blood pressure measurements and blood glucose and cholesterol levels.

Additionally, senior living community members experience plenty of social interaction and can participate in brain-engaging activities such as crafts, hobbies, puzzles and games. 

The above benefits associated with a senior living community can help reduce the health risks of chronic diabetes, whether physical or mental. However, since each type of community provides distinct levels of care for its diabetic residents, it's important to ask they include up front.

What Types of Senior Living Communities Provide Diabetes Management Services?

Most senior living communities offer some level of diabetes care. However, the level of service can vary depending on the type of community. Therefore, expect similar categories of communities to have similar services. 

Let’s look at the most common senior living situations and discuss how they may handle diabetic care. Keep in mind that each state has laws regarding senior living communities.

Independent Living

As the name suggests, independent living communities may not be much different from living on your own at home. The difference is you have opportunities for social interaction that may not exist in your neighborhood. Independent living complexes may have a variety of amenities, including small grocery stores, beauty parlors and recreation centers. You also have the option to add at an additional cost as many or as few support services as you need, from nutritious meals to transportation.

Residents at independent living communities are responsible for monitoring their own blood sugar levels and taking medications, including insulin injections. However, you can make arrangements with the community or an outside agency for more involved care at an additional cost. This may include simple reminders or weekly visits from a visiting health agency. In addition, some pharmacies provide delivery of prefilled insulin syringes and other diabetic supplies. 

Assisted Living

Seniors in assisted living situations may need a little more help with the activities of daily living, such as dressing or bathing. They may also require basic medical assistance, such as blood pressure monitoring, glucose monitoring and medication management. Assisted living communities may have one or more licensed RN and LPNs on staff with supportive aides as needed.

The support staff at an assisted living community can help remind residents to check blood sugar levels and take medication. Some states permit nursing aides to perform finger sticks for blood sugar monitoring. However, the resident must perform insulin injections. Additional services may be available at an extra cost through the community or an outside agency. 

Skilled Nursing Homes

Nursing home residents can receive higher levels of nursing care, including IV therapies, medication administration and catheter and wound care. Skilled nursing homes have a staff of licensed nurses and aides available round-the-clock.

Depending on community policy and state law, nurses or aides can perform blood glucose level checks. Licensed nurses can administer insulin injections.

Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRC)

Seniors who wish to remain in the same community as they age may opt to move into a CCRC. These complexes have a variety of living arrangements, from independent to skilled nursing. Elderly adults who find they need more assistance, either permanently or temporarily, simply move to a different area of the community. Most CCRCs require an initial entry fee and then monthly payments, which may vary depending on the living arrangement.

Diabetes care will vary in a CCRC depending upon your housing situation. Expect each level, from independent to skilled nursing care, to include similar diabetic assistance as the living arrangements listed above.

Memory Care Communities

Residents in a memory care community need specialized assistance that takes into account their mental capabilities as well as their physical needs. In addition to a secure environment, memory care residents receive help with daily living and activities to stimulate their minds. 

Since memory care communities can differ regarding their level of skilled nursing care, diabetes assistance also varies. Reminders to take medication and check blood sugar levels would be considered an essential service. However, more involved care, such as administering insulin injections, would depend on the availability of licensed nurses.

When dealing with chronic diabetes, it’s important to recognize that disease management involves much more than blood sugar level monitoring and insulin injections. There are specific lifestyle strategies that can lessen the risks associated with long-term diabetes, and senior living communities can help you or a loved one follow these strategies.

How Senior Living Communities Help With Diabetes Management

How Senior Living Communities Help With Diabetes Management

Living with diabetes as a senior can be challenging, whether you or a loved one is newly diagnosed or has been living with the disease for a while. A supportive community can relieve some of the burden, making it easier to follow healthy habits and disease management strategies.

Diabetic Education

Many communities offer classes on chronic health conditions. Consider taking a diabetic education course to learn as much as you can about the disease. You’ll also discover other residents who face the same daily challenges as yourself, providing a supportive community of friends and neighbors.

In addition, ask your primary care provider for a referral to a diabetes care and education specialist. These trained specialists can help you develop a treatment plan unique to your situation.

Food and Nutrition

Your senior living community’s dining service should offer a regular selection of diabetic-friendly food. Staff members can suggest suitable items from the dining menu if you're confused about which item to choose.

As an added benefit, eating three healthy meals a day at set times can go a long way toward regulating your blood sugar levels. Senior living communities also make it easy for residents to enjoy healthy snacks throughout the day.

Fitness Programs

Regular exercise is one of the key strategies for diabetes risk management. Look at the events calendar at your prospective living community. Chances are it’s filled with opportunities for daily movement, whether you’re into competition — think bocce ball, bowling or corn hole — or would prefer to dance your cares away. 

Physical fitness doesn’t have to be organized, either. As a senior living community resident, you can take quiet walks alone or with friends, after meals, first thing in the morning or whenever the spirit moves you.

Foot Care

Seniors with diabetes must practice good foot care. Poor circulation can result in slow healing of even the tiniest cuts, and loss of feeling can cause problems to remain undetected until they become serious.

Many senior living communities offer the services of a visiting podiatrist. Scheduling regular visits to have your toenails trimmed and your feet and lower legs checked can prevent serious problems down the road.

Emotional and Spiritual Help

Diabetes and aging can cause stress buildup. One solution is to keep your mind engaged by learning new things and continuing with old favorites. Card games, crafts and movies are some ways seniors can relax in their community, all while enjoying the companionship of others. 

Senior communities offer several ways to practice your faith as well, from Sunday morning services to weekly Bible discussions. Spending time with those of like faith can help you approach diabetes from a more positive mindset.

Daily Support

You’ve already discovered that managing diabetes is all about the details. Monitoring and recording blood sugar levels, keeping track of carbohydrate consumption and noting your symptoms — it’s a lot to keep track of.

Knowing that you can count on regular reminders from the on-site staff can give you or a loved one increased peace of mind. And with diabetes, better management can help reduce the risks of long-term complications.

Transitioning to a senior living community involves careful planning and financial considerations. Ensure you factor in the above benefits when choosing a senior living arrangement for you or a loved one with diabetes.

What Is the Cost of Diabetes Care in Senior Living Communities?

Communities consider numerous factors when setting their fee schedules, including location, services and amenities. You can get a full breakdown of costs from a community representative during a scheduled visit or online, and you’ll want to clearly see these costs outlined before signing any contract or moving in.

However, if you’re still in the planning stages, we created some baseline figures so you can compare senior living arrangements. Keep in mind these are general guidelines.

Monthly Senior Care Costs* (Based on National Averages) 

Care & Living TypeCost
Home Health Care$5,148
Assisted Living Community$4,500
Skilled Nursing Facility, Semiprivate Room$7,908
Skilled Nursing Facility, Private Room$9,034
Continuing Care Retirement Communities$402,000 initial membership $3,555 monthly

*Costs obtained from the 2021 Genworth Cost of Care Survey and the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care 

For seniors with diabetes, costs will need adjustments based on the individual's needs. For example, we based the above home care cost on 44 hours of service. Therefore, fewer home visits can result in lower costs. 

You should adjust costs based on the level of service as well. For example, the higher initial cost of living in a skilled nursing home may equal the costs of an assisted living arrangement with home health care.

Controlled vs Uncontrolled Diabetes and the Cost of Senior Living

To reasonably identify expenses, you need to evaluate the individual with diabetes. Brittle diabetes is a phrase often used when a person has difficulty controlling their blood sugar levels or when those levels seesaw greatly.

A person with poorly controlled blood sugar levels who receives regular insulin injections will need a much higher level of care than an individual who takes a daily oral medication and has near normal blood glucose levels.

You have much to consider when it comes time to choose a senior living arrangement, such as location, amenities and costs. If you or a loved one has diabetes, you also need to factor this health condition into your search.

What To Look for When Finding a Senior Living Community for Someone With Diabetes

You can reduce many diabetes health risks by following your prescribed treatment plan and making healthy lifestyle choices. Furthermore, it helps to have a senior living community that understands the challenges of the disease and has programs and services in place for residents with diabetes.

With that in mind, we developed a checklist of items to help you narrow your search for a senior living community that allows elderly diabetics to live life to the fullest.

Financial Resources for Seniors With Diabetes

Many resources exist to help seniors pay for medical care, including diabetes treatment and management. Depending upon your financial situation, age, ethnicity and location, you may be eligible to receive assistance from various federal, state or local programs.

Medicare Assistance for Diabetic Supplies

Medicare is a federally run program that helps provide health insurance for those over 65, disabled or with qualifying diseases. Medicare coverage that relates specifically to diabetes includes:

  • Medicare Part D or a Medicare Advantage Plan with drug coverage may partially cover oral medication and insulin.
  • Some Part D plans also cover diabetic supplies, such as gauze pads, syringes and alcohol swabs.
  • Medicare Part B may cover laboratory screenings of blood glucose levels (two per year) if you meet certain criteria.
  • If medically necessary, Medicare Part B may pay for an insulin pump; in that case, it also pays for the insulin used.
  • If you, your doctor and your supplier meet Medicare requirements, Part B may pay for a glucometer and the necessary test strips to check blood glucose levels.

Medicaid Coverage for Diabetic Supplies

Medicaid is a state-run assistance program for individuals with low income or who are disabled, pregnant or minors. Coverage varies by state, so check with your local Department of Health and Human Services or other state agency, such as the Department of Social Services, to see what benefits you can receive. Typically, these programs cover oral diabetic medicine, insulin, testing strips, syringes and other diabetic supplies.

Veterans Benefits

You or your loved one may be eligible for Veterans Health Care if they served in the military and weren’t dishonorably discharged. Veterans' benefits packages vary depending on the situation, so you’ll need to discuss your diabetes treatment plan with a benefits manager to discover which items your plan covers. In addition, you may need to purchase all medications and supplies from a VA clinic and see a VA-approved doctor.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs also has an invaluable Geriatrics and Extended Care division. Eligible seniors can access financial assistance for assisted living solutions and home care and learn about advance care planning.

Other Assistance Options for Seniors with Diabetes

Many other nonprofit organizations exist to help seniors with diabetes find affordable care. Check out some of these resources to see if you or your loved one qualifies. For more information, visit the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Assistance ServicesDescription
Indian Health Services (IHS)IHS offers diabetes management services and related health care to eligible members of federally recognized tribes. In most cases, members must obtain health care at an IHS center.
TRICAREThis health insurance option is available to current and retired U.S. military members and their spouses and children. TRICARE covers oral diabetes medication, insulin and supplies. As with any insurance program, you may have deductibles and copays and be required to visit an in-network doctor or pharmacy.
Medicare Savings ProgramSeniors who need assistance paying for Medicare premiums along with copays and deductibles for diabetes supplies and medications may apply to state Medicare Savings Programs. Eligibility is primarily based on income.
Lions Clubs InternationalThis nonprofit organization sponsors several diabetes programs, including free screening events and peer support groups. In addition, local clubs supply hearing aids and eyeglasses to those in need.
Drug Discount Programs Rx Outreach RxAssist NeedyMedsYou may receive discounts on oral diabetes medications, insulin and/or diabetic supplies through various drug discount programs. Each program has different eligibility requirements and coverage amounts, so it pays to check around.
U.S. Administration on AgingThis organization oversees local Area on Aging chapters and sponsors numerous programs to help those with chronic diseases, including diabetes. You’ll also find SHIP counselors to help you understand and choose a Medicare plan and support services for healthy aging.

Proper diabetes management is key to reducing the risk of long-term health problems. Healthy habits and medication adherence can significantly improve the outcome of seniors with diabetes. In addition, senior living communities offer several advantages, including access to nutritious meals, exercise programs and disease management support.

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