Living With Diabetic Neuropathy: Helping Seniors Cope

More than 25 percent of Americans aged 65 or older have diabetes, and between 60 and 70 percent of people with diabetes have some form of neuropathy. Diabetic neuropathy is a family of nerve disorders that can produce pain, tingling, and numbness in the hands, feet, arms, and legs. The risk of neuropathy increases with age, with the highest rates of neuropathy among those who have had diabetes for 25 years or more.

Neuropathy is the result of prolonged exposure to high blood glucose. It can affect the extremities or even the body’s systems, including the digestive tract, sex organs, and heart. Treating neuropathy initially involves getting blood glucose levels under control to prevent further damage. This is done through monitoring, meal planning, exercise, and medications.

If your aging loved one suffers from neuropathy, it’s essential to make sure she’s following her doctor’s orders concerning diet and exercise, and it’s crucial that she takes her medications exactly as prescribed. Beyond that, there are a number of things you can do to help your loved one cope.


Consider complementary therapies for pain.

Complementary treatments for neuropathy are those that are shown through research to be effective for helping reduce the pain and discomfort of neuropathy when they’re used along with traditional therapies, like medication and exercise. Commonly used complementary therapies for neuropathy include acupuncture, biofeedback, physical therapy, and topical capsaicin cream, which is made from chili peppers.


Try a bed cradle and foot board.

A bed cradle is a device that keeps sheets and blankets away from sensitive feet and legs by holding them in place above the extremities. Foot boards keep the feet in a proper, comfortable position while in bed.


Keep blood pressure under control.

High blood pressure increases the risk of complications of neuropathy, and keeping it within normal limits is crucial for preventing the neuropathy from worsening. Encourage your loved one to eat healthy food and exercise every day. Enroll him in a daily yoga class, or talk him into a half-hour walk each day. Swimming is an excellent exercise for those who have severe neuropathy.


Get support.

Living with diabetic neuropathy isn’t easy. It can lead to depression and feelings of isolation. A support group can help your loved one cope by offering tips and encouragement. The American Diabetes Association offers an online support group through its website. If depression becomes serious, seek counseling.
Diabetic neuropathy can’t be cured, but if your favorite senior learns coping skills, gets support, and engages in a variety of therapies to help treat pain and discomfort, she can enjoy a high quality of life nonetheless.