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The Causes of Type 2 Diabetes in Elderly People

Article by Daniel Westhead Daniel Westhead Sure Safe Alarms

Type 2 diabetes is a condition that occurs when your blood sugar (glucose) is too high. Insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas, helps glucose absorb into your cells to be used for energy. In type 2 diabetes, your body doesn’t make enough insulin, or it doesn’t use insulin efficiently. Therefore too much glucose then stays in the blood, and not enough reaches your cells.

In the UK, 3.9 million people have been diagnosed with diabetes, and around 90% of those cases are type 2 diabetes. Having type 2 diabetes without treatment means that high blood sugar levels can seriously damage parts of the body, including the eyes, heart and feet. But the good news is that with the right treatment and care, you can live well with type 2 diabetes and reduce your risk of developing complications.

Do you think you or someone you know may have type 2 diabetes? We know that this can be a daunting prospect and are here to guide you through the causes, symptoms and how to manage type 2 diabetes.

What are the causes of type 2 diabetes in elderly people?

Type 2 diabetes used to be thought of as an adult-onset diabetes, however both type 1 and type 2 diabetes can begin during childhood and adulthood. Type 2 is more common in older adults and elderly people, however the increase in the number of children with obesity has sadly led to more cases in younger people.

Primarily, type 2 diabetes is the result of two interrelated problems:

  1. Cells in muscle, fat and the liver become resistant to insulin and due to this, they don’t take in enough sugar.

  2. The pancreas is unable to produce a sufficient amount of insulin to manage blood sugar levels.

While the exact cause of why this happens is currently unknown, being overweight and inactive are two factors that are thought to contribute.

There are certain factors that may increase one’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes, including:

  • Weight - being overweight or obese is a main risk.

  • Fat distribution - if the body stores fat mainly in the abdomen, rather than the hips and thighs, this indicates a greater risk.

  • Inactivity - the less active someone is, the greater the risk. Not only does physical activity help to control weight, it also uses up glucose as energy and makes the cells more sensitive to insulin.

  • Family history - if your parent or sibling has type 2 diabetes, the risk increases.

  • Blood lipid levels - an increased risk is associated with low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol - the good cholesterol - and high levels of triglycerides.

  • Age - the risk of developing type 2 diabetes increases as you get older, especially after age 45.

  • Race and ethnicity - although it’s unclear why, people of certain races and ethnicities, including people of Asian, African-Caribbean or black African origin are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.

  • Pregnancy-related risks - if you gave birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds or if you developed gestational diabetes when pregnant, your risk for type 2 diabetes increases.

  • Polycystic ovary syndrome - having this condition increases the risk of diabetes.

  • Prediabetes - this is a condition in which someone’s blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be classified as diabetes. If left untreated, this often progresses to type 2 diabetes.

Why do elderly people get diabetes?

The risk of developing type 2 diabetes steadily increases with age. One of the main reasons for this is increased insulin resistance, which could be caused by decreased muscle mass (sarcopenia), being overweight or reduced physical activity. Additionally, the pancreas does not function as well as it does in younger people.

What are the symptoms of type 2 diabetes?

Many people have type 2 diabetes without actually realising - this is because the symptoms may not necessarily make you feel unwell.

The symptoms of type 2 diabetes include:

  • Urinating more than usual, particularly at night

  • Feeling thirsty all the time

  • Increased hunger

  • Feeling very tired

  • Losing weight without trying to

  • Itching around your genitals, or repeatedly getting thrush

  • Cuts or wounds taking longer to heal

  • Blurred vision

  • Areas of darkened skin, usually in the armpits or neck

What should I do if I have symptoms of type 2 diabetes?

You should arrange to see a GP if you have any of the symptoms, or if you’re worried you may have a higher risk of getting type 2 diabetes. A GP can diagnose the condition by carrying out a blood test. The earlier diabetes is diagnosed and treatment is started, the better. Early treatment reduces your risk of developing other health problems, such as:

  • Heart disease and stroke

  • Nerve damage (loss of feeling and pain)

  • Vision loss and blindness

  • Miscarriage and stillbirth

  • Problems with your kidneys

Is there a cure for type 2 diabetes?

Unfortunately at present, a permanent cure has not been discovered for type 2 diabetes, however there are measures which you can take to help manage the disease. There is strong evidence to show that some people can put their type 2 diabetes into remission by losing weight, this means your blood sugar levels are below the diabetes range, and you don’t need to take diabetes medication.

Treatments for type 2 diabetes

Lots of people need medicine to control their type 2 diabetes. This helps keep your blood sugar level as normal as possible to prevent health problems. You may have to take it for the rest of your life, although the medication or dosage may need to change over time. Adjusting your diet and being active is also usually necessary to keep your blood sugar level down.

There are a variety of medicines for type 2 diabetes, including:


This is the most common medicine for type 2 diabetes. It comes in the form of tablets. Metformin can help keep your blood sugar at a healthy level. If this doesn’t work well enough on its own, or if you cannot take it or have other health problems, you may need to take other diabetes medicines alongside or instead of this, including:

  • Other tablets which help lower blood sugar, such as gliclazide, glimepiride, alogliptin, linagliptin or pioglitazone

  • Tablets that lower blood sugar and help your heart pump blood around your body, such as dapagliflozin or empagliflozin

  • Injections that lower blood sugar and help you lose weight, such as exenatide or liraglutide


If other medications no longer work well enough to keep your blood sugar within a healthy range, you’ll probably need insulin. This may only need to be used for a short amount of time. Insulin is injected using an insulin pen, which helps you inject the right dose safely. The needles are very small so using an insulin pen doesn’t usually hurt, and only a small amount needs to be injected just under the skin.

How can I prevent getting type 2 diabetes?

Research shows that leading a healthier lifestyle can help prevent type 2 diabetes, even if you have biological relatives with the disease. If you’ve received a diagnosis of prediabetes, lifestyle changes may slow or stop the progression of diabetes.

A few changes you could make to your lifestyle to help prevent type 2 diabetes include:

  • Eating healthier foods that are lower in fat and calories and higher in fibre. Focus on fruits, vegetables and wholegrains.

  • Being more active - aim to follow the NHS physical activity guidelines for your age category. We know that exercise can be daunting if you struggle with aches and pains, or are not used to exercising often - check our guide to the best exercises for older people for some inspiration.

  • Losing weight - losing a modest amount of weight and keeping it off can help delay the progression from prediabetes to type 2 diabetes. If you have prediabetes, losing 7-10% of your body weight can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.

  • Avoiding inactivity for long periods of time - try to get up every 30 minutes and move around for at least a few minutes. On some smart watches and devices, you can set up reminders to ensure you are moving around often.

Living with type 2 diabetes

Learning how to manage and live with type 2 diabetes can be challenging. It may seem like there’s a lot of information to take in and it can feel overwhelming. There are lots of online resources that can help you, including the Diabetes UK Learning Zone and Emotional Support resources.

If you are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, it’s recommended that you have your cholesterol and blood pressure checked at least once a year. You should also let your GP know if you notice any changes in your body - try and check your feet regularly and speak to your GP if you notice any: cuts, cracks or blisters, pain or tingling, numb toes and feet. Diabetes UK has advice on how to check and look after your feet. It’s also important to get regular eye checks to prevent any problems that can be caused by type 2 diabetes.

To help ensure you are keeping active and healthy, a smartwatch can be a very helpful tool as it can measure your activity levels, calories burned, heart rate and many more factors to help manage type 2 diabetes. The SureSafe Go Plus is a fantastic option to help you lead a more active lifestyle. There are also lots of free apps that you can download to help keep an eye on what you are eating and the nutritional value.

Type 2 diabetes is associated with an increased risk of falls, and a fear of falling is common in patients with type 2 diabetes due to the high rate of balance and gait impairments; to help keep you or your loved one feeling safe, you may consider purchasing a fall alarm.

If you or a loved one suffers from type 2 diabetes and want to ensure that you maintain your independence, you may find a digital in-home personal alarm can help you feel safer, knowing that someone is on hand in the event of an emergency. The SureSafe Guardian is equipped with a whole host of useful features for those who suffer with type 2 diabetes.

Call SureSafe's team of experts on 0800 112 3201 to learn more about our personal alarms.

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