6 Health Problems to Watch For

Medically Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on March 15, 2024
4 min read

About 1 in 4 adults over age 60 have diabetes. Having the disease makes you more likely to get some serious complications. And so does getting older. The combination of the two can even make some health problems worse.

While you can’t stop the clock, there’s a lot you can do to lower the odds of future issues, or at least slow them down. Work with your doctor to make sure your diabetes is well controlled. Follow your treatment plan, take your medicines, watch what you eat, and try to be more active. All of these steps will go a long way toward helping you live a longer, healthier life.

Here’s a closer look at six ways diabetes and aging can take a toll on your health. If you notice any new symptoms, talk to your doctor right away.

Aging and diabetes can lead to certain eye diseases. These include:

  • Cataracts -- cloudy areas that develop in the lens of your eye
  • Glaucoma -- increased pressure inside your eye
  • Retinopathy -- damaged blood vessels in your eye that leak fluid

Each of these can cause serious vision problems and blindness.

Visit your eye doctor at least once a year for an eye exam with pupil dilation. This test gives them a better view of the inside of your eye. If you notice any changes in your eyes or vision, don’t wait for your next appointment. See the doctor right away if you:

  • Have blurry vision
  • See double
  • Have trouble reading signs or books
  • Have pain in one or both eyes
  • Feel pressure inside your eye
  • See spots or floaters
  • Can’t see objects to the sides as well as you used to

This happens when you have an infection in your gums and other tissues nearby. Without proper dental care, your risk for gum disease may rise as you age. Diabetes makes you more likely to get gum disease. It affects your ability to fight off infections, including those in your mouth. Untreated gum disease can lead to tooth loss.

Fortunately, there’s plenty you can do to prevent problems. Brush twice a day. Floss once a day. And rinse with an antiseptic mouthwash daily. Keeping good sugar control plus visiting your dentist every 6 months helps reduce your risk of dental problems. Contact them if you notice any signs of disease, like gums that become red, swollen, or bleed easily.

They’re a serious concern among older adults. Low vision, certain medicines, balance problems, and more can cause you to take a tumble. Diabetes also puts you at risk for falls. It can damage nerves in your feet, a condition called peripheral neuropathy. It can cause pain, tingling, sensitivity, “pins and needles,” or numbness in your feet. This can make it hard to sense where your feet are, which can cause you to easily trip or fall.

Regular doctor visits can keep you standing tall. They’ll check your feet every time. If you notice any signs of peripheral neuropathy or any issues with your feet, be sure to let them know right away.

Be on the lookout for problems in the bedroom. When you have diabetes, they may start earlier or become more severe than with other folks. The disease can damage nerves or blood vessels that affect your sexual organs.

Men often have problems like:

  • Erectile dysfunction -- trouble getting or keeping an erection
  • Retrograde ejaculation -- semen goes into the bladder instead of out your penis

Women may notice:

  • Decreased vaginal lubrication, or vaginal dryness
  • Discomfort or pain during sex
  • Less desire for sex
  • Trouble getting or staying aroused
  • Less sensation during sex
  • Inability to have an orgasm

If you have changes in your sexual function or arousal, let your doctor know. It may feel weird to talk about it, but these problems are common and treatable. They range from medicines and lubricants to counseling and exercises that strengthen muscles used during sex.

Diabetes boosts your risk of serious complications if you get sick with the flu, especially if you’re over 65. That's because both diabetes and age weaken your immune system, making you less able to fight infections.

Possible flu complications include:

  • Pneumonia
  • Bronchitis
  • Sinus infections
  • Ear infections

In serious cases, complications can lead to hospitalization and even death.

The flu can also make diabetes worse by raising your blood sugar levels. It can also affect your appetite, and when you don’t eat enough your blood sugar plummets. If you come down with the flu, call the doctor. Antiviral medications used to treat the flu work best when given within 48 hours from when symptoms start.

The best way to stay well is to get a flu shot every year. They’re safe for people with diabetes. You should also get a pneumonia shot.

These are also linked to both aging and diabetes. High blood sugar can affect many organs, including your brain. Over time, Alzheimer’s disease can impact your memory, ability to learn, reason, use good judgment, and do your normal daily tasks. Doctors still have a lot to learn about the connection, but the best way to reduce your odds of getting it is to keep your diabetes under control.