Diabetes and Falling Down: What You Need to Know

December 6th, 2017

“Diabetes is having a profound effect on people’s ability to mobilize, to live long lives, and to exercise,” says Paul Adams, senior director of product management for Lifeline. “When you become diabetic, a whole series of other problems starts erupting.”

One of the most serious of those “other problems” is falling.

About one-fourth of Americans over age 60 are living with diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. And Lifeline research shows that seniors with diabetes fall 30 percent more often than someone without a chronic condition.

There are many complications and co-morbid conditions associated with the disease, and a handful contribute diabetic fall risk:

  • Hypoglycemia: Research indicates that falls are the “most significant consequences caused by hypoglycemia episodes,” in which blood sugar drops rapidly, causing lightheadness or fainting.
  • Cardiovascular disease, heart attack & stroke: Seniors with cardiovascular issues are 29% more likely to fall and require a trip to the Emergency Room, due in part to lightheadedness and dizziness, dramatic changes in heart rate or blood pressure or diminished alertness.
  • Blindness: Reduced vision makes it hard to see impediments like stairs, cords and changes in grade that cause falls.
  • Peripheral neuropathy: Numbness in the extremities can produce changes in gait, impact posture and affect balance, making diabetics more likely to take a tumble. The NIH estimates that 60-70% of patients have some form of diabetic neuropathy.
  • Amputation: Foot and leg amputations make it harder to get around stably, and hand and arm amputations reduce the ability to grab hold for security.

The conditions can take an additional toll, especially if a diabetic keeps falling down.

“People become fearful that they’ll fall, making them less active,” explains Dr. Bijan Najafi, professor of Surgery, Medicine and Engineering at The University of Arizona. “That causes muscles and joints to stiffen, making falls even more likely. It’s a real domino effect.”

How to Manage Diabetes and Falling Down

The good news is that many diabetes complications – and the fall risk associated with them – can be avoided. Here are five tactics:

  • Mind those blood glucose levels. The best way to reduce diabetes fall risk is the diligent monitoring and management of blood glucose levels, which reduces the likelihood of developing neuropathy and hypo/hyperglycemia.
  • Stay safely active. “Lack of mobility actually worsens neuropathy, which further limits mobility. It’s a vicious cycle,” Najafi explains. “If we walk, we can drive the blood flow to our feet and ankles, and keep those nerves alive.” Learn about low-impact exercises.
  • Eat smart. Those dietary guidelines the doctor gave you not only improve your overall health, they also keep your blood glucose levels in a healthy range so you’re less prone to spikes that can make you woozy and unsteady. Check out these mouth-watering recipes for diabetics.
  • Get regular checkups. It’s also important to see your primary care physician and specialists on a regular basis for blood work and physical assessments, and visiting the eye doctor to evaluate visual acuity and eye health.

Knowing the connection between diabetes and falling down helps you understand the risk and how to reduce the potential for taking a tumble.

Don’t disregard professional medical advice, or delay seeking it, because of what you read here. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional consultation, diagnosis or treatment; it is provided “as is” without any representations or warranties, express or implied. Always consult a healthcare provider if you have specific questions about any medical matter, and seek professional attention immediately if you think you or someone in your care may be suffering from a healthcare condition.