The holidays are upon us. Amid the flurry of activities and preparations with family and friends, this is the time that we need to be vigilant of our own health needs. Diabetes is becoming alarmingly more common among Asian Pacific Americans and can be aggravated during the holidays when dinners are indulgent and vigilance is low. But with proper planning, elderly diabetics can manage diabetes well and still enjoy festivities with family and friends.

The Joslin Diabetes Center’s Asian American Diabetes Initiative states about 10 percent of APIs have diabetes. Of this number, 90 to 95 percent have Type 2 diabetes, which results from a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Diabetes is a progressive disease that has become increasingly common in the United States. The American Diabetes Association reports there are approximately 24 million Americans who have diabetes. It is characterized by high blood glucose (a form of sugar) which is caused by the body not producing enough insulin, or because cells do not use or respond well to the insulin that the body produces. Type 1 diabetes is also called insulin-dependent; type 2 is non-insulin dependent and is usually treated through medication.

But according to some experts, there’s hope for diabetics. Dr. Lena Saluta, a family medical practitioner in Lodi, California, said the progression of diabetes can be delayed.

“Although diabetes is a chronic condition that usually cannot be cured, it can be controlled by diet alone,” said Dr. Saluta. She recommends diabetics who are older be more aware of their caloric intake and advises “not going over 1800 calories a day as a general rule.”

Carbohydrates are considered the culprit by most experts as they have the greatest effect on glucose levels. This so-called diet therapy is important to the management of diabetes.

The Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS) is a Seattle non-profit and the largest multi-service organization in the Pacific Northwest serving the mental health needs of the Asian Pacific American communities. Its programs include Aging and Adult Services which offers consultation and health education.

According to Kim Nguyen who is a registered nurse at ACRS, the best way for an elderly diabetic to prepare for the holidays is to plan ahead.

“Don’t expect perfection during the holidays, but focus on a few important things you want to work on such as: controlling portion size (don’t overeat), and limiting the intake of sugary foods and carbohydrates.” For example, use the Plate Method: visually dividing one’s plate into four, fill half the plate with greens and other non-starchy vegetables; a fourth with lean meat; and the last fourth with bread, grain, or starchy vegetables like corn and potatoes.

There are traditional Asian foods that can aggravate diabetes. This includes processed or refined grains such as polished white rice, traditional white rice noodles, and white steamed buns. Healthy alternatives include whole grains such as red, black, or brown rice, whole wheat bread, and soba noodles.

Of course, at a party, you cannot expect to have these healthy choices always available. In fact, parties are often full of fatty and carbohydrate-laden food – a diabetic’s nightmare. As a party attendee, a person can offer to bring a nutritious dish. They can also eat ahead. This way, temptation can be fended off.

Elderly diabetics are more sensitive to medications, adds Nguyen. Therefore, alcohol intake should be discussed with a doctor or nurse as alcohol contains sugar and may interfere with medications. “It is recommended that a diabetic person wear a diabetic ID band on their neck or wrist,” said Nguyen. “This ID band is so that no one will interpret low blood sugar with drunkenness.”

But diabetes, like all medical conditions, should not hinder one from an enjoyable holiday season. With careful management and planning, anyone can look forward to the holidays with family and friends knowing that their diabetes can be controlled and that it does not define their life.

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