If you’re one of the 422 million people who live with diabetes, you already know how much damage unused glucose in your blood can do to cell membranes, nerves and organs.
What you may not know is how diabetes can affect your balance and put you at a higher risk of falling.
In a study published in Diabetes Care in the UK, MRI scans revealed pockets of fat hiding inside muscle tissue, making them able to exert less force than the outward muscle size would suggest. The effects can be seen in balance tests and gait analysis, where the muscles of the legs and hips are stiffer and weaker, making negotiating stairs and other obstacles more difficult.
This can become a negative spiral, as greater effort needed to move around makes people do less, resulting in further muscle weakening, and an even higher fall risk. Finding an activity you can safely enjoy, and ensuring it contains exercises to strengthen muscles, is one way to combat this problem.
Neuropathy effects around 70% of diabetic patients, causing numbness, tingling and pain, especially in the extremities of the hands and feet. This lack of sensory feedback is a significant reason why patients struggle to be active, and can make tripping over objects like stairs or curbs more likely. Paying attention, and gait training, can help lower some of the risks.
For patients who are learning to manage insulin doses, or who don’t eat at regular intervals, low blood sugar also poses a problem, resulting in weakness, dizziness, and trouble with vision. Have a plan for what to do if this effects you, speak to your doctor about the best way to manage these fluctuations.
In addition to the risk of damage to the optic nerve, it’s important to see an optometrist regularly as diabetes puts you at a higher risk of glaucoma and cataracts. We rely on sight for a huge amount of sensory information and when it deteriorates, typically our balance does too. Managing any eye conditions with corrective lenses where appropriate is a vital part of keeping on your feet.
Many people with diabetes also have to contend with other medical issues, from cholesterol to high blood pressure. A simple rule of thumb is that the more medications you take, the higher your risk of falling. Increasing information is available to help you and your doctor work out which combinations can minimize the risk.
The information contained on this site is general in nature and is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by your own physician or other medical professional. None of the statements on this site are a recommendation as to how to treat any particular disease or health-related condition. If you suspect you have a disease or health-related condition of any kind, you should contact your health care professional immediately. Please consult with a healthcare professional before starting any diet, exercise, supplementation or medication program.