By Rev. Craig Statton, Atherton CEO
On the Late Show with David Letterman in 2013, the prolific actor, Tom Hanks, shared a personal revelation with the country; he had been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. Hanks said that he had been dealing with high blood sugar for some time, but at a recent visit to the doctor, the 61-year-old actor heard the doctor say, “You know those high blood sugar numbers you’ve been dealing with since you were 36? Well, you’ve graduated! You’ve got type 2 diabetes, young man.”
Hanks is one of nearly 29 million Americans age 20 or older (12.3 percent of all people in this age group) who have diabetes, according to 2014 estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). People can get diabetes at any age, but the risk increases as we get older. In 2014, over 11 million older adults living in the U.S. – nearly 26 percent of people 65 or older – had diabetes. There are 3 types of diabetes: Type 1, Type 2, and gestational diabetes. Type 1 diabetes used to be called juvenile diabetes because it most often develops in young people. With this form of diabetes, a person no longer makes insulin or enough insulin to help the glucose in your blood get into your cells and provide the needed energy to make the cells work. Gestational diabetes happens in the later stages of pregnancy for women when the pregnancy hormones create a lack of insulin in the body. This type of diabetes usually goes away after pregnancy, but can create the conditions for diabetes later in life. Type 2 diabetes or adult-onset diabetes is the most common form of diabetes and usually begins with insulin resistance or pre-diabetes before becoming full blown diabetes. The effects of the disease can be dramatic, and include vision loss, kidney failure, nerve damage, cardiovascular disease, increased infections and slower healing, and if not treated appropriately can lead to amputation.
Fortunately for most people, diabetes can be both prevented and managed. With the help of medical science, the effects of the disease can be minimized in peoples’ lives. So how does a person prevent diabetes? The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases carried out a Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) clinical trial and found that individuals with prediabetes over 60 can reduce their risk for Type 2 diabetes by 71 percent with 4 lifestyle changes: stop smoking, improve your nutrition, increase your physical activity, and lose 5-7 percent of your body weight. The first one of these is self-explanatory. The second change involves improving your nutrition by including 2 or 3 servings of fresh fruits and 2 or 3 cups of fresh vegetables each day, having healthy proteins like fish, chicken, or grass-fed beef, eating less sugar, and drinking plenty of water. Increasing your physical activity helps your overall health. Just 30 minutes of exercise a day can makes a big difference in your life. At Atherton we have added several classes such as Tai Chi, line dancing, and stretching to help residents improve both mobility and health. Finally, deciding to lose some weight can make a significant difference in your overall health. Interestingly enough, if you start eating healthier and adding more exercise to your life, the by-product of these changes will be weight loss.
These are the lifestyle changes which help a person reduce their risk of diabetes, but these are also some of the things that help a person manage diabetes once you are diagnosed. A couple of other things are important when you are managing this disease. Doctors encourage tracking your glucose levels so that you can prevent spikes and taking your prescribed diabetes medications, even when you are doing well. One of the most important tools in managing this disease is maintaining a steady lifestyle to prevent the high and lows of blood sugar.
When Tom Hanks closed his interview with David Letterman he said, “Its controllable.” That’s the good news for Mr. Hanks and the rest of us. Diabetes can be a debilitating disease, but it is also a preventable and manageable disease when you follow some steps of healthy living.