Medical Alerts for Seniors with Diabetic Retinopathy

Medical Alerts for Seniors with Diabetic Retinopathy

time icon 6 min read update icon Sept. 28, 2019


The leading cause of ocular morbidity in Americans is diabetic retinopathy. Ocular morbidity is considered any clinically significant eye disease that can result in visual impairments that are both blinding and non-blinding. Diabetic retinopathy is particularly pervasive in older populations but can strike as early as middle age.

Additionally, sufferers of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes could develop diabetic retinopathy, which presents as spots in one’s central vision or as overall blurred vision.

Diabetic Retinopathy Overview

Diabetic retinopathy can arise as a result of uncontrolled high blood sugar levels in those with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes. It is important to note that the prevalence of diabetes in the U.S. has resulted in a subsequent uptick in the number of Americans with this type of ocular morbidity. More specifically, about half of people diagnosed with diabetes will experience some stage of diabetic retinopathy.

There are two types of diabetic retinopathy, with various stages of deterioration associated with each. The first type is non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy, which is caused by little aneurysms and hemorrhages on the eye’s retina. These, in turn, result in blurred vision and distorted images. The second type is proliferative diabetic retinopathy, which occurs when new blood vessels appear on the retina and build up over time. In the case of the latter, eventual detachment can result in permanent blindness.

As a friendly reminder, it is critically important for both type 1 and 2 diabetics to control their blood sugar levels. Type 1 diabetes occurs when a person is unable to produce the necessary amount of insulin to control their blood sugar, while type 2 diabetes occurs when a person’s body is unable to process insulin effectively.

Diabetic Retinopathy Impairment

Middle-aged and older adults with type 1 or type 2 diabetes are at an increased risk of developing vision problems due to complications with their blood sugar levels. Diabetic retinopathy will present as eye floaters and spots for some, while others may have no symptoms at all. Additionally, those in the early stages of testing for diabetes may not be impaired at all visually.

Over time, especially without proper treatment of blood glucose levels, vision could deteriorate quickly, leaving one with impaired vision. Spots or floaters may appear in one’s line of sight and the entire field of view may become blurred. When this occurs, mobility becomes an issue with subsequent impacts to one’s mental well-being, quality of life and willingness to venture beyond the comforts of home. If the older person decides they no longer feel comfortable going places, then they may stop visiting the doctor for regular diabetic testing to ensure careful monitoring of their blood glucose levels.

As this downward spiral occurs, the older person may become more susceptible to other ocular morbidities such as diabetic macular edema, cataracts, glaucoma and blindness.

Those with type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes and diabetic retinopathy may experience the following visual impairments:

  • Floaters or spots in their vision
  • Fluctuating vision
  • Shadows in their field of vision
  • Grainy or cloudy vision
  • Distortions in their field of view
  • Double vision
  • Eye pain
  • Deposits on, or behind, the retina
  • Bleeding or leaking vessels in the eye
Medical Alert Benefits

An inability to negotiate one’s environment due to blindness or visual impairments can jeopardize the overall safety of an older person, especially if they spend a great deal of time alone. Medical alert devices and fall detection systems now have the ability to put someone who just had a spill or went into diabetic shock in touch with a first responder.

Additionally, many of these technologies are capable of storing one’s medical records in the event a spill results in a concussion or loss of consciousness. Having this sort of information on hand could be critical if the diabetic is unable to respond after a fall.

Diabetic retinopathy symptoms:

  • Dilated pupils after an exam
  • Ruptured tissue or blood vessels around or behind the retina
  • Sudden changes in vision
  • Large spots or floaters in field of view
Safety Without Medical Alerts

Diabetic retinopathy may not immediately result in impaired vision or loss of mobilty, but over time, it could become a significant barrier for a senior when it comes to attending family functions or making regular visits to the doctor. That said, it is never too early to begin investigating and researching good fall protection devices or in-home responders. Until that time, however, there are still ways to remain safe with diabetic retinopathy. Specifically:

  • Check blood glucose levels often: Try to follow instructions from your primary care provider or physician on monitoring your blood sugar levels to avoid unnecessary damage to tissue in the eye.
  • Update your doctor: Let your medical team know if you experience any sudden changes in your field of view or vision, as blindness could result from a ruptured blood vessel near or behind the retina.
Diabetic Retinopathy Precautions
  • Know if you are at risk: Diabetes is on the rise in America and is especially widespread in African American communities as well as in Hispanic populations.
  • Do not self-medicate:  Take care to check your blood glucose levels regularly and do not self-medicate or cease testing based on how you may feel one day versus the next.
  • Try to improve your lifestyle:  If you have type 2 diabetes, try to exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet and quit smoking if you do so. Additionally, monitoring blood pressure and blood sugar is critical to avoiding any sudden spikes that could lead to long-term impairments.
Diabetic Retinopathy Medical Alerts Conclusion

As with nearly all ocular morbidities, diabetic retinopathy rarely strikes in an instant, but instead causes a long, slow deterioration of the eye’s ability to function optimally. Older folks might wake up day after day with no problems in their sight, but one day notice distortions or floaters covering up their field of view.

Having a technological system or network of family and close friends in place can be critical when a person is unable to see clearly, negotiate their environment or easily reach out for help. As a direct result of diabetes, this type of vision impairment concern could simply be added to a senior’s medical chart in the event the home is already equipped with monitors for diabetic shock, spills or falls.

Kate Papenberg - Senior Advisor

Kate is senior researcher with Grandfolk® providing in-depth product and service reviews to empower senior buying decisions.