Legendary actor Dick Van Patten’s death at age 86 from diabetes complications underscores the tragic difficulty many older Americans face as they find it harder to manage their disease as they age.
The number of American seniors suffering from Type 2 diabetes, also known as adult-onset diabetes, is at an all-time high. Van Patten, best known for his role on hit TV show “Eight Is Enough,” was afflicted by the disease for many years and said he struggled to keep his blood sugar down.
While the precise cause of Van Patten’s death was not disclosed, circumstances point to stroke or perhaps heart disease, Supneet Saluja, M.D., a top endocrinologist, tells Newsmax Health.
“As people get older their risk of heart disease and stroke mounts, and this is especially true people with diabetes,” said Dr. Saluja, who practices at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. “Diabetics have two to four times the risk of heart attack and stroke than people without the disease.”
In fact, Van Patten suffered a diabetic stroke in 2006 and rushed to Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He suffered some speech impairment and paralysis, but largely recovered and continued to work.
The affable actor said later that he blamed sugary treats for his health crisis.
“I thank my lucky stars that my stroke wasn’t that bad,” he said. “I could have easily died.
“What happened was I eat desserts and I’m not supposed to – I cheated. Then my blood sugar level suddenly shot up to a dangerously high level.”
The risk from diabetes increases with age, said Dr. Saluja, as sufferers are more likely to develop secondary health conditions.
Tight glucose control has been found to help lower the risk of some diabetes complications such as blindness and nerve damage, said Norma Lopez, M.D., an endocrinologist at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Ill.
Although, Van Patten believed his stroke was due to high blood sugar (hyperglycemia), often low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) is a more difficult problem for senior diabetics, the experts said.
“Younger people can recover from hypoglycemia more easily than older people can,” Dr. Lopez tells Newsmax Health. Hypoglycemia can lead to symptoms that include shakiness, blurred vision, confusion, and coma.
Dr. Lopez offers this advice for older people dealing with Type 2 diabetes:
• Know the blood glucose range that is right for you. This may not be as narrow a range as required for younger people, but it is crucial to stay within readings prescribed by your doctor.
• Know how exercise affects your blood glucose level so that you can make necessary medication adjustments when you change your activity level.
• Blood glucose control is important, but don’t focus on it exclusively. Blood pressure and cholesterol levels are also crucial.
• Do your own research on the drugs you are taking, what they do and what the alternatives are.
• People with diabetes often have nerve damage that can interfere with pain signals. This means they may not feel pain associated with a heart attack. Make sure that your doctor monitors you for heart disease.
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