Diabetes and Fall Risk

As you age, your chances of experiencing a fall increase.  In fact, the Centers for Disease Control reports that one-third of people over the age of 65 experience a fall every year in the U.S.  And recent studies have shown that you become even more of a fall risk if you’re over 65 and have also been diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes.  Not only are individuals with diabetes almost twice as likely as their non-diabetic peers to experience a fall, they are also twice as likely to become injured from their falls.

Conditions that Contribute to Falls

Hypoglycemia/Low Blood Sugar

Diabetic hypoglycemia occurs when there is too much insulin in your blood and not enough sugar.  Low blood sugar can lead to seizures and loss of consciousness, which can cause you to fall down in the middle of whatever it is you are doing.  Whether you are in bed, in the kitchen making a sandwich, or watching TV in your living room, low blood sugar can strike at any time and have dire consequences.

Hypoglycemia usually occurs if you take too much insulin, skip a meal, or exercise more vigorously than usual.  According to the Mayo Clinic, early signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia include: shakiness, dizziness, hunger, irritability or moodiness, sweating, muscle weakness, blurry or double vision, drowsiness and confusion.

Hyperglycemia/High Blood Sugar

Hyperglycemia can occur when your insulin levels are low, or if you’ve eaten more than you planned to (or exercised less than planned).  It can also be triggered by stress or common illnesses such as cold or flu.  If hyperglycemia goes untreated, you could fall into a diabetic coma, also called ketoacidosis, which can have grave consequences.

Signs of early hyperglycemia include high blood sugar levels in the urine, frequent urination and increased thirst.  If you ignore these symptoms and end up in ketoacidosis territory, you might start to feel shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting and extreme dry mouth.

Diabetic Neuropathy

Diabetic neuropathy is nerve damage that is commonly experienced by people with diabetes.  According to the National Institute of Health, “about 60 to 70 percent of people with diabetes have some form of neuropathy.”  Neuropathy causes pain, numbness, tingling, or even loss of feeling in the hands, arms, feet and legs.  This can often lead to dangerous falls.

The symptoms of diabetic neuropathy range from mild to severe—often going unnoticed and building up over several years before causing major discomfort.

Eye Disease

The Glaucoma Research Foundation estimates that as many as 25,000 people go blind each year due to diabetic eye disease.  Diabetic eye disease refers to eye conditions that include diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and cataracts.

Diabetic retinopathy is a disease which damages tiny blood vessels in the retina, and is actually the most common eye condition for diabetics.  Glaucoma is a common condition that comes with age, but people with diabetes are twice as likely to develop glaucoma. Cataracts are also quite common to develop with age, but diabetics are twice as likely to experience cataracts, and usually at a younger age.  Cataracts cloud the eye’s lens causing blurry vision.

Be Proactive

While all of these conditions are unpleasant in and of themselves, they all also tack on the added risk of experiencing a dangerous fall and suffering further injuries.  In fact, older diabetics who experience falls are more likely to break a hip than those without diabetes.

Instead of waiting to be reactive in an emergency, it helps to be proactive about your health before an accident happens.  In addition to keeping your diabetes under control through modified diet and exercise routines, there are also several precautions you can take to ensure your safety should a fall occur.

Medical ID bracelet

A medical ID bracelet is recommended for people with diabetes, especially if you use insulin.  In the event of experiencing a severe episode that may cause unconsciousness, a medical ID bracelet can provide EMTs, Nurses and Doctors with important medical information that can affect the type of care you receive.

Medical Alert System

A medical alert system isn’t just for the elderly anymore.   With their technological advancements, many of them have automatic fall detection and can signal for help even if you happen to slip into unconsciousness.  There are many medical alert systems on the market, which gives you the option of figuring out which one is best for you.

Speak to An Occupational Therapist

An Occupational Therapist is trained to help people readjust to life at home after being diagnosed with a disease or medical condition.  They can help you figure out which changes may need to be made to your home to prevent falls and keep you safe.

Stick to Regular Doctor’s Appointments

Going to the doctor for regular checkups is a vital part of remaining healthy with diabetes.  But that goes for more than just your primary care physician; you also need to keep regular appointments with a podiatrist and eye doctor, to help keep neuropathy and eye disease-related falls at bay.

Hilary Young is the Communications Manager for Medical Guardian. She helps to keep baby boomers and their loved ones educated about their health and wellbeing. She is also a regular contributor to the Medical Guardian Blog, the Huffington Post and Fifty Is the New Fifty.


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