African American older adults are disproportionately affected by diabetes, which affects more than 10% of African American adults. Without proper management, diabetes may increase the risk for other diseases including cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, and Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.
One way to understand this concept is to think about how sticky sugar becomes when you caramelize it in a frying pan. This is the same process that occurs in our arteries, since the average internal temperature of the human body is 98.6°F. As our arteries are filled with this “sticky sugar,” our heart needs to work harder to ensure blood flow throughout the human body. As more and more sugar (glucose) enters the bloodstream, there is a greater chance of our arteries being clogged, increasing the risk for other diseases.
However, the opposite is also true – regulating diabetes may reduce the risk of other diseases and conditions that disproportionately impact African American older adults. In particular, controlling sugar intake may reduce the risk of developing vascular dementia, a type of dementia that is caused by reduced or blocked blood flow. This is also true for other diseases such as cardiovascular disease, which occurs when arteries are clogged or blocked.
Below are some additional lifestyle changes one can take to lessen the impact of diabetes:
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables
- Substitute sugar with healthier alternatives such as honey or agave nectar
- Limit the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages
- Avoid eating big meals near bedtime
- Get 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity or at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity of aerobic activity such as brisk walking, jogging, biking
- Adopt diets such as the Mediterranean Diet or a high-fiber diet, diets that are associated with a lower risk for cardiovascular disease
Although there are many changes one can make to regulate diabetes and the onset of other diseases, more efforts are needed to be taken by state and federal institutions to address diabetes in the African American and Black communities. Small actions such as providing culturally competent health information may help community members better understand how the aforementioned diseases are related and the importance of regulating diabetes. Additionally, health providers, social service providers, and community-based organizations must work together to create strong networks to promote healthy aging by African American older adults.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.