October 2006: Seniors who have diabetes face a very different set of health problems if they are diagnosed during middle age than if they are able to ward off the disease until their golden years, according to a new study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University.
Though researchers have known for years that the risk of developing type 2 diabetes increases with age, little research has been done examining how this disease affects the elderly as compared to other age groups.
The study, which looked at more than 2,800 elderly persons in the 1999-2002 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, found that 15.3 percent of Americans aged 65 or older had diabetes, representing 5.4 million people. Another 2.4 million seniors had diabetes but didn't know it (nearly 7 percent).
Those who had been diagnosed with the disease in middle age had far greater problems with microvascular disease (eg retinopathy) and much worse glycemic control than those who were diagnosed in their later years.
"Our study reinforces the need to help adults who are middle-aged take steps to prevent diabetes, and suggests that seniors with diabetes should not be treated as a single group. It may be necessary to develop different treatment guidelines for those who are diagnosed during their 40s and 50s, as compared to those who are diagnosed after the age of 60," said lead researcher Elizabeth Selvin, PhD, MPH, of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.