Diabetes, Disability and Life

Americans with diabetes born in the 1940s living longer and with less disability compared to those who are older.


Living a long time is desirable for many people, but they want to be able to enjoy life and have few disabilities. For people with diabetes, slowing complications that cause disability is important.

A new study showed that Americans born in the 1940s who had diabetes had less disability than those born in the 1930s by the time they reached the age of 70. The study did not differentiate between type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes is a metabolic disease that affects blood sugar regulation. It can cause a variety of complications such as vision problems, kidney failure and heart disease.

Type 1 diabetes was once called juvenile diabetes because it typically appeared in childhood or adolescence, but the term is now used to refer to people with diabetes who take insulin.

Type 2 diabetes usually develops in early to late middle age and results from lowered insulin production and decreased sensitivity to insulin. Insulin is the hormone that regulates the blood sugar.

"Over the past two decades, we have seen an increase in the length of good disability-free years of life in older Americans aged 50-70 both with and without diabetes," lead study author, Barbara Bardenheier, PhD, said in a press release.

Dr. Bardenheier is a scientist from the US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

Dr. Bardenheier and the research colleagues analyzed data on more than 20,000 older adults collected as part of the Health and Retirement Study. Patients ranged in age from 50 to 70. More than 11,000 had diabetes.

The researchers divided the patients into two groups: those born in the 1930s and those born in the 1940s. They looked at three kinds of possible disabilities: mobility, daily activities like bathing and eating, and daily activities like cooking, shopping or preparing meals. They also studied how well people recovered after a disability and compared the death rates between the two groups.

As expected, after age 50, those with diabetes had reduced life expectancy and were more likely to live with disabilities compared to those who did not have diabetes.

However, people born in the 1940s tended to develop disabilities later in life than those born in the 1930s. They were also more likely to live more years without disability prior to age 70. The study was limited by a lack of data beyond age 70.

"Our findings suggest that efforts to promote healthy lifestyles, advancements in the management of diabetes and other chronic conditions such as heart disease and the increasing popularity of procedures such as hip and knee replacements have been successful in compressing disability--reducing the number of years with disability into later years, up to age 70," Dr. Bardenheier said in the press release.

The study was published in the June issue of The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology.

The study was funded by US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

Information on conflict of interest was not available.