Diabetes and Its Effect on Fall Risk for Seniors

“Diabetes is having a profound effect on people’s ability to mobilize, to live long lives and to exercise,” says Paul Adams, Senior Director of Product Management for Philips Lifeline. “When you become diabetic, a whole series of other problems starts erupting.”

Nearly 12 million Americans over age 65 are living with diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. A recent Philips study showed, seniors with diabetes fell 30 percent more often, compared to someone without a chronic condition.

The complications and co-morbid conditions associated with diabetes include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, heart attack, hypoglycemia, stroke, blindness, kidney disease, peripheral neuropathy and amputation.

Peripheral neuropathy is the most common complication, affecting 60 percent to 70 percent of all people with diabetes, according to WebMD. Neuropathy greatly increases fall risk, since it causes a loss of sensation in the feet.

“Neuropathy is nerve damage to the lower extremities,” explains Dr. Bijan Najafi, Professor of Surgery, Medicine and Engineering at The University of Arizona and Director of iCAMP. “When there is not enough blood circulation to the extremities, the nerves don’t receive enough oxygen and nutrition, and they start to die or lose performance.”

Because neuropathy greatly limits a person’s perception of where their feet and ankles are in space, balance becomes difficult, and this can result in a cascade of complications that can follow a fall.

“People become fearful that they’ll fall, making them less active,” says Dr. Najafi. “That causes muscles and joints to stiffen, making falls even more likely. It’s a real domino effect.”

The good news is that many diabetes complications – and the fall risk associated with them – can be avoided.

Vigilant Management Can Curb Complications

Diligent monitoring and management of blood glucose levels is critical for diabetics. Keeping blood glucose levels within the normal range is the best way to prevent neuropathy, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).

Keeping blood glucose in check will also prevent hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia, Adams adds, either of which can impact balance and equilibrium and potentially cause a fall.

Staying safely active can also help.

“If we walk, we can drive the blood flow to our feet and ankles, and keep those nerves alive,” says Dr. Najafi. “Lack of mobility actually worsens neuropathy, which further limits mobility. It’s a vicious cycle.”

The CDC also urges healthy eating habits, keeping your blood pressure and cholesterol under control, and scheduling regular medical, dental and eye exams.

Help When You Need It

Anyone – even the most careful – can stumble and fall. Medical alert devices put the power to summon help at the user’s fingertips. Philips Lifeline offers personal emergency response systems that provide access to help with the press of a button, or if a fall is detected can automatically signal for help, even if the button is never pressed, and can pinpoint the location of the person who has fallen, using the latest locator technology.*

“The problems associated with diabetes create a safety issue for seniors living at home,” says Adams. “At Philips, we look at the role we can play in helping them stay at home.”

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*Coverage outside the home provided where AT&T wireless network coverage is available.

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