What Are The Side Effects Of Low Blood Sugar in the Elderly?

In a healthy adult, low blood sugar levels pose minimal risk and are easily reversed when detected in the early stages. But mild hypoglycemia can pose unforeseen dangers to the elderly, and can impact decisions, increase the risk of developing dementia and cause disturbances in balance causing injury from falls.

Because of the opportunity for harm is increased, it is important for seniors and loved ones to know how a single episode of low glucose can have a lifelong effect. The dangers of low blood sugar are much more serious for senior citizens.

Impact on Decision Making Skills

Low blood sugar levels experienced by a healthy adult can cause varying levels of confusion, but unless the condition is approaching severe stages it is still possible to make rational choices. Many individuals who are experiencing mild symptoms of hypoglycemia recognize signs of hunger, fatigue and mood shifts – then make the decision to consume a snack or meal. This corrects the imbalance in the majority of cases, but this same process may have a different outcome in the elderly.

Seniors experience low glucose levels differently than a healthy adult. Even a mild episode of this disorder can trigger irrational or impaired thought processes. As a result, an elderly person may not consume a food, even though the body is sending every possible signal warning that sugar levels are falling, and glycogen stores are being depleted.

This impact on decision making skills can turn a low risk situation into a high risk scenario with a potentially dangerous or fatal outcome. And interestignly enough the treatment for low blood sugar in seniors is often different than it is for younger adults.

Increased Risk of Dementia

A study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), was performed by Division of Research, Section of Etiology and Prevention, Kaiser Permanente, in Oakland, California, and the Departments of Psychiatry, Neurology and Epidemiology at the University of California in San Francisco. The results show a potential link between the effects of low blood sugar and dementia in type 2 diabetes patients.

Research concluded out of the 1,465 participants who experienced one severe hypoglycemic episode, 17% or 250 individuals were diagnosed with dementia before the end of the study. Also, the risk of developing this disorder increased over time – with the rate growing at slightly over 2% per year. Researchers believe these episodes are linked because the brain has a decreased ability to recover from injury and illness as individuals’ ages. This may be in part related to neuropathy.

Accidental Falls and Injury

Healthcare providers urge seniors to actively mange their diabetes, or seek assistance from loved ones if routine care becomes difficult. However, individuals over the age of 65 who participate in a tightly managed program are at increased risk for accidental insulin overdose which triggers a hypoglycemic event.

One of the effects of low blood sugar levels is imbalance and lack of coordination – which will not pose a danger to the average person, but can cause an older adult to fall. As a result, there is an increased risk of accidental injury or bone breaks, which can impact a senior’s quality of life as they progress in age.

You can read more about the symptoms of low blood sugar levels here.

One of the easiest ways to prevent low blood sugar is to discuss a low blood sugar treatment plan with a healthcare provider. They can help seniors, family members and friends recognize warning signs, determine proper treatment and if additional medical attention is needed. This knowledge can keep older adults safer, and reduce the risk of long term damage or accidental injury by helping individuals stay in a safe and normal blood sugar range.

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