By Amir Khan
Diabetes can cause a host of complications, from heart and kidney disease to blindness and neuropathy, and according to a new study published in the journal Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, older diabetics are up to 80 percent more likely to develop a physical disability than non-diabetics. With the diabetes rate expected to continue skyrocketing, some experts say the U.S. health care system may not be able to withstand the strain.
Researchers from Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, Australia analyzed 26 studies and found that diabetics with either type 1 or type 2 who were 65 and older were between a 50 and 80 percent higher risk of developing a physical disability that left them with impaired mobility or unable to complete everyday tasks, such as bathing, eating or using the phone.
The exact mechanism why diabetics are at an increased risk for disabilities is unclear, the researchers said, but it's likely that inflammation is to blame.
"It's possible that the high blood glucose concentrations experienced by people with diabetes might lead to chronic muscle inflammation, eventually resulting in physical disability, and some studies have shown that diabetes is associated with rapid and worsening muscle wasting," Anna Peeters, MD, a researcher at the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, said in a statement.
In addition, other complications from diabetes could raise your risk for disability as well, said Scott Drab, PharmD, diabetes specialist and associate professor of pharmacy and therapeutics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy.
"Most of the disabilities stem from complications due to diabetes - such as eye damage, kidney damage, nerve damage," Dr. Drab said. "When you have nerve damage, you can't dress yourself, and if you go blind, you're not going to be able to get around on your own."
By 2050, 1 in 3 adults in the U.S. could have diabetes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and this increase could lead to millions of disabilities and add up to billions of dollars in health care costs. More than 20 million adults in the United states, approximately 8 percent of the population, has diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association, and diabetics spend more than $245 billion in medical costs and reduced productivity every year. If this number quadruples by 2050, health care costs could exceed a trillion dollars every year.
"As the world's population ages, and diabetes becomes more common, it seems clear that we will see an increased need for disability-related health resources, which health systems around the world need to be prepared for," Dr. Peeters said in the statement.
Drab agreed, and said the sheer number of patients will overwhelm the health care system.
"It's going to severely impact the health care system," he said, "because you're going to have more and more patients with diabetes and less health care providers to treat them."
Drab stressed the importance of stopping the rate of diabetes from increasing to its projected numbers. In addition to preventing people from developing diabetes by encouraging exercise and a healthy diet, encouraging diabetics to control their disease will help ward off disability, he said.
"Many diabetic patients fail to control their diabetes, and thus, will develop complications," Drab said. "Once they do, they're going develop these disabilities."
"It's going to be devastating unless we do something to stop it," he added.
"Diabetes Severely Ups Disability Risk, Study Finds" originally appeared on Everyday Health.