For many individuals, the journey of living with type 2 diabetes starts early. Once referred to as adult-onset diabetes due to its prevalence among middle-aged and older Americans, the condition has become more common in children, adolescents, and young adults, due in part to growing childhood obesity rates. While some aspects of type 2 diabetes management, like glucose monitoring and healthy lifestyle choices, are important for all age groups, other parts of treatment may change with time. Here’s a snapshot of what type 2 diabetes may look like at each stage of life and tips for living with the condition.
Type 2 diabetes during childhood
All type 2 diabetes treatment plans include healthy eating, frequent physical activity, and blood sugar monitoring regardless of age. Depending on a child or adult’s blood sugar levels and overall health, they may also need diabetes medication or insulin therapy to supplement these lifestyle changes. In addition to insulin, two other diabetes medications may be used to treat type 2 diabetes during childhood: metformin, an oral medication, and liraglutide, an injectable medication.
Younger children will need assistance with blood sugar monitoring, and if your child takes insulin, they will also need help with insulin administration. It’s important that teachers or other school staff are able to provide support during school days. Make sure that someone at the school is prepared to administer glucagon if your child’s blood sugar falls below a healthy range (known as hypoglycemia).
Inform your child’s teacher and/or other school staff of your child’s type 2 diagnosis before classes begin. Be sure to discuss daily treatment needs like blood sugar monitoring, insulin therapy, or other medication needs, as well as how to spot the signs and symptoms of low blood sugar. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) has resources that can help you start these conversations.
Living with type 2 diabetes as a young child can be emotionally challenging. It often helps to build connections with other children who are on the same journey. Explore programming for children with type 2 diabetes, like the ADA’s summer camps.
If your child is overweight, their doctor may recommend that you focus on slowing weight gain rather than losing weight since they are still growing. Follow your doctor’s recommendations and look for simple but impactful changes, like swapping carbohydrate-rich foods for a snackable fruit or vegetable, or trading soft drinks and fruit juices for water.
Type 2 diabetes during young adulthood
Whether you’ve had type 2 diabetes since childhood or are newly diagnosed, living with the condition as a young adult requires you to take an active role in the management of your health. It’s important to build a relationship with a care team that you trust to avoid any gaps in your treatment. Depending on your treatment plan, you may also have to learn about the logistics of filling prescriptions, ordering diabetes supplies, and coordinating with your insurance company.
Taking on additional responsibilities and navigating life more independently doesn’t mean that you’re completely on your own in managing your diabetes. If parents or another relative previously helped you with blood sugar monitoring, scheduling doctor’s appointments, or other aspects of care, use them as a resource during this transitional period as you become more confident managing your health. You may also want to expand your support system by working with a certified diabetes educator or connecting with other young adults living with type 2 diabetes.
Make sure you understand how other health issues can affect diabetes. For example, the common cold or flu can impact your calorie intake and blood sugar levels, so it’s important to be prepared to manage other illnesses. Alcohol safety is also extra important when living with type 2 diabetes, as alcohol is a factor in your blood sugar levels. For those taking insulin, be mindful of how alcohol use affects insulin therapy.
Build a diabetes care team you trust. In addition to seeing a primary care physician for general health issues, search for an endocrinologist who specializes in diabetes treatment.
Familiarize yourself with all aspects of managing type 2 diabetes, from navigating health insurance to monitoring blood sugar. Consider working with a certified diabetes educator. These are healthcare professionals with extensive knowledge of the condition who can offer individualized support. You can also search for a diabetes education program.
Find opportunities to connect with other young adults learning how to manage type 2 diabetes, like the Beyond Type 2 community.
Type 2 diabetes during your 30s and 40s
The progression of type 2 diabetes varies significantly by individual. While many individuals are just beginning the journey of living with the condition in their 30s or 40s, diabetes management may feel like second nature for those who were diagnosed at an earlier age. It’s also possible for a person’s treatment needs to evolve at this stage of life. If lifestyle changes and other medications are effective, you may be tapering off of insulin. Conversely, you may need to begin taking additional medications, such as insulin, in order to manage your diabetes even more effectively. As always, follow your care team’s recommendations for your specific needs.
Regardless of what type 2 diabetes looks like for you, one thing’s for certain: it’s important to stay on top of your care and put your health first even when life is at its busiest. Make sure there’s plenty of room in your calendar for physical activity and doctor’s appointments. If you take insulin, find the right delivery method for your schedule and lifestyle. Many people who work long days in a physical setting find insulin pumps and pens convenient as they eliminate the need to remember the timing of injections.
If you are considering starting a family, your doctor can help you plan to have a healthy pregnancy. Get clarity on your A1C targets — your average blood sugar levels over several months — and how long to maintain them before pregnancy. Once you become pregnant, make a doctor’s appointment as soon as possible to learn about any potential changes to your treatment plan.
Revisit your fitness routine, if needed, to find the right activities for your schedule. If you find it challenging to fit enough exercise into your life — ideally 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week — try to fit shorter bursts of physical activity into your day.
If you take insulin, consult with your doctor about insulin delivery options to find the best fit for your needs.
Choose a diabetes pharmacy partner that simplifies your treatment. At Alto, we consolidate all of your medications and supplies into a single monthly delivery, and our mobile app can help you manage all of your diabetes needs in one place.
Type 2 diabetes and healthy aging
Preventative care and healthy lifestyle choices take on additional importance when you’re living with diabetes, which increases your risk for other chronic conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and dementia.
Many older adults with diabetes also have high blood pressure, which is linked to a higher risk for strokes and heart attacks as well as vision and kidney function. Stay on top of key numbers like your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and follow your doctor’s recommendations for treatment. You may also want to ask your doctor about additional screenings related to your mental health or cognitive health, as older adults with diabetes are more likely to experience depression or cognitive impairment. (If caring for an older adult with diabetes, watch for the signs of depression and dementia.)
Stay current with vaccines, including the annual flu shot and the pneumonia vaccine. If you are unsure which vaccines you need, ask your doctor.
Ask your doctor about the recommended frequency of screenings for other health conditions, including cancer screenings and kidney function tests.
Find a loved one to help with insulin administration and recording blood sugar readings, if needed.
A partner in your diabetes care
Managing diabetes is easier at any age with the right pharmacy partner by your side. The Alto app can help you manage all of your diabetes needs in one place, and our dedicated diabetes support team is here to offer guidance and make sure you have everything you need for your treatment.
Reach out any time through in-app secure messaging or by phone at 1-800-874-5881 to learn how we can support your diabetes care.
This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.