From: Reuters
Published February 22, 2008 06:38 PM

Older diabetics at risk of physical disabilities

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Elderly people with diabetes may be at heightened risk of physical limitations that could hinder their independence, a new study suggests.

British researchers found that among more than 800 adults age 65 or older, those with diabetes were more likely to have problems with walking and performing daily tasks like bathing, climbing stairs and dressing.

Overall, 46 percent of those with diabetes used some form of mobility aid, such as a cane or walker. That compared with 31 percent of men and women without diabetes.

Furthermore, 4 percent of diabetics were "highly dependent" on someone else to care for them, whereas only 1 percent of those without diabetes were, the researchers report in the journal Diabetes Care.

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Diabetes-related nerve damage and impaired blood flow to the legs likely play a role in the higher rate of walking problems, according to the researchers, led by Dr. Alan J. Sinclair of the University of Bedfordshire.

Study participants with diabetes also tended to have more co-existing health conditions, such as high blood pressure and a history of heart attack or stroke, that could have contributed to their physical limitations.

According to Sinclair's team, there is "growing recognition" that older adults with diabetes need help with more than just blood sugar control. In particular, more attention needs to go toward their risk of impaired leg function, the researchers note.

A number of studies, they add, have shown that exercise -- strength training, in particular -- is key in managing older adults' diabetes. It's likely, the researchers write, that exercise could improve not only their blood sugar control, but their mobility as well.

SOURCE: Diabetes Care, February 2008.

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