Don't Sugarcoat It

Diabetics face a shortened life expectancy

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Despite recent advancements in diabetic treatment, a 50-year-old with diabetes can expect to live, on average, eight years less than a 50-year-old without the disease.

A new report from the National Academy on an Aging Society indicates older adults with diabetes have a lower life expectancy than those without the disease -- and the expectancy varies with age. For example, at age 60, the difference in life expectancy is 5.4 years, and by age 90, the difference is one year.

Diabetes probably affects you or someone you know. About 7.8 percent of the total U.S. population is afflicted with the disease, which translates to 23.6 million people. Those are alarming figures, but even more startling: By 2034, 44.1 million Americans are expected to be diagnosed.

“Given the rise in diabetes among boomers and seniors, these findings are alarming,” said Greg O’Neill, PhD, director of the Academy. “They paint a stark picture of the impact of diabetes and its complications on healthy aging.”

Diabetes, a chronic (lifelong) disease marked by high levels of sugar in the blood, results from a pancreatic malfunction. The pancreas in a diabetic does not produce enough insulin, resulting in high blood sugar. Persistent high blood sugar, in turn, damages internal organs.

There are two types of diabetes: type 1 (thought to be caused by genetics, viruses or an autoimmune disorder) and type 2 (developed). Type 2 diabetes is far more common and usually occurs in adulthood. Obesity and lack of exercise often contribute to the development of the disease. Other risk factors include: being over 45, a family history of the disease, heart disease, high cholesterol levels and ethnicity (African-Americans, Native Americans, Asians, Pacific Islanders and Hispanic Americans are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.)

The numbers are increasing for all ethnicities, however. A total of 11 percent of non-Hispanic whites had diabetes in 1998 compared to 18 percent in 2008, while the number of afflicted non-Hispanic blacks increased 10 percent in the same amount of time.  

A new report titled “Profiles of an Aging Society: Diabetes” found that older diabetics are less likely to be employed than non-diabetics and are more likely to have other health problems, such as heart disease and depression.

A decreased life expectancy added to the mix makes outlooks grim for diabetics. Your best measure of protection is to exercise, keep an eye on blood-sugar levels and stick to a diet rich in vegetables and fish and low in carbohydrates, sugar and fats.

If you have diabetes, there's promising news, too: Research funding keeps treatment options ever-evolving. Annual diabetes-related spending is expected to reach $336 billion in 2034, almost triple the amount researchers estimated was spent in 2009. 

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 30, 2010
Last Updated:
December 1, 2010