Treating Hypoglycemia in Seniors

Hypoglycemia means a low blood glucose level of 70 mg or lower. It can produce a vast variety of symptoms and problems, but the main complications come from an insufficient supply of glucose to the brain, causing an impairment of body function. Each person that has hypoglycemia or diabetes may have different symptoms, but common symptoms can range from mild dysphoria, which is an emotional state characterized by anxiety, depression, or unease; to hunger, weakness, and more serious issues such as seizures, heart palpitations, and, rarely, permanent brain damage or death. Severe cases also may cause unconsciousness which is called insulin shock. The most frequent reason that hypoglycemia occurs is because of an overdose of diabetes mellitus medication; whether or not the treatment is taken orally or as insulin injections. It can occur at any age, but it is more common in seniors.

Hypoglycemia is one of the most common, and one of the most dangerous emergencies experienced by the elderly. Unfortunately, the symptoms are overlooked most of the time because of physical and cognitive impairment from illnesses – such as dementia, strokes, or other health conditions – can make it difficult for the elderly or caregivers to recognize the symptoms. Even in a mentally stable senior, the symptoms can be hidden, making it much more challenging to recognize. Threatening signs like amplified thirst, frequent urination and vision problems may go unnoticed because these can be common effects of aging on the body. For example, a natural decrease in thirst due to age can compensate the increased thirst typically experienced by those with low blood sugar. Changes such as mental confusion, incontinence and other health complications are more often the showing symptoms.

Prevention plays a key role in treating hypoglycemia and diabetes. Drinking alcohol, delaying or skipping meals, not eating enough carbohydrates, or exercising without adjusting your carbohydrate intake increases the risk of having low blood sugar levels. It can also be caused by an insulinoma, which is an insulin releasing tumor. Blood sugar should be checked regularly, at least every two hours. Be sure to know the symptoms well enough so you would be able to treat it quickly and effectively if a problem arises.  If your elderly family member shows symptoms of hypoglycemia, immediately give a form of sugar that can be absorbed quickly.  It is necessary to get at least 15 to 20 grams of sugars or carbohydrates to raise a blood glucose level. Examples of foods with a high carbohydrate content are; juice or soda, raisins, crackers, peanut butter, and corn syrup. Glucose tablets, hard candy, and sugar are also good ways to relieve symptoms. Foods that have a lot of fat, as well as carbohydrates, such as cookies or ice cream do not raise blood glucose levels as quickly. Be careful not to overcompensate by eating too much. This will cause high blood sugar and weight gain.   After ten minutes, if there is no improvement, give the sufferer at least another 15 grams. This can be repeated up to three times, and if symptoms are still present, seek emergency attention.

Hypoglycemia is very serious and should not be taken lightly. If it goes untreated it can result in the elderly person fainting and may cause permanent brain damage.  If someone you are caring for faints, they will need to have immediate treatment, such as a glucagon injection or emergency treatment in a hospital.

Here are a few tips for managing diabetes and recurring hypoglycemia:

  • Increase the number of times the patient’s blood sugar is tested every day.
  • Educate the people that are with them for long periods of times.
  • Have them wear a bracelet with their name, address, and that identifies them as a person with recurring hypoglycemia and rather or not they are a diabetic.

It can be a frightening experience to have an episode of low blood sugar. Do not let yourself or your family member go through it alone. We at Carefect Homecare Services wish to help take care of you and your aging loved one. In home care can assist people who have recurrent hypoglycemia and relieve the stress and fear of the unknown. Our caregivers will support the seniors and family emotionally, physically, and would be with them if there was an emergency. Homecare should be strongly considered to lessen the chance of serious side effects of hypoglycemia. It is a cost effective way to have the help you or your elderly family member needs.