Diabetes is a condition that has been established as a risk factor for falls. Diabetic peripheral neuropathy, which is nerve damage affecting sensation, movement and balance, is a common complication of diabetes that puts aging persons at a higher risk of falling. Peripheral neuropathy is caused by increased blood sugar levels, which damage the nerves in the legs and arms. As a result, the damaged nerves have a difficulty in transporting messages between the brain and other parts of the body.
Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy include:
- Sensitivity to touch: Individuals with peripheral neuropathy experience increased sensitivity to touch, as well as what is described as numbness or tingling in the hands, feet or legs.
- Weakness in the muscles: Blood sugars that are recurrently and persistently elevated can also cause damage to the nerves that communicate with muscles regarding movement. This can result in the weakening of the muscles and individuals may have difficulty in standing up and walking.
- Issues with balance: Persons with peripheral neuropathy may experience a feeling of unsteadiness and loss of coordination.
Exercise is highly recommended for persons struggling with diabetic peripheral neuropathy. Along with any prescribed medication and maintaining a proper diet, exercise has been found to help control the levels of blood sugar and therefore prevent a worsening of the symptoms of diabetes overall and peripheral neuropathy.
Industry experts indicate that the best exercises for diabetics to aid in fall prevention include exercises that strengthen the leg muscles, aerobics, and walking. Exercising helps to improve reaction time, maintain balance, and maintain the ability to walk. The suggested frequency of exercise is a minimum of three days per week for aerobic exercises and two days per week for activities focused on strengthening the muscles. Exercise programs seem to have good results among the aging population that suffers from diabetes.
Aging adults with diabetes and peripheral neuropathy tend to also have other health conditions and corresponding prescribed mediations. For this reason, it is extremely important to speak to your health provider to go over what types of exercises are best, discuss any limitations and preferences, and determine a best course of action. An exercise plan that is custom prescribed for an individual’s needs and preferences can be extremely effective for controlling the blood sugar levels in the body, avoiding other health complications (i.e. low blood pressure), and more.