Enjoying the golden years was once an unlikely dream for anyone with type 1diabetes. In early part of the 20th century, individuals diagnosed with type 1 diabetes weren't expected to live past their early 50s. But thanks to great strides in the treatment of the chronic disorder, a long life expectancy is now possible.

Type 1 diabetes—the less common form—accounts for about 5 percent of diabetes cases and may be caused by genes, the environment, or other factors. Though experts do not know how to prevent this chronic, autoimmune disease, it can be treated through the use of insulin.

Researchers at Joslin Diabetes Center, which is affiliated with Harvard Medical School, are studying why some older individuals with type 1 diabetes lead long lives with few of the devastating complications that plague others with the problem, according to U.S. News and World Report. Some 850 people are participating in the study, answering questions about their diet, exercise regimen, family background, and what medications they take. Study participants also undergo examinations of their eyes, hearts, and kidneys. The participants were chosen from nearly 4,000 individuals who've had type 1 diabetes anywhere from 50 to 85 years.

Among the complications that can occur in individuals with type 1 diabetes are nerve damage, kidney problems, blindness, and heart and blood vessel damage. Some 35 percent of the study participants did not have major health issues with their eyes, kidneys, or nerves, according to the research.

The Secret to Their Success

So what are these folks doing right? It turns out to be a compilation of factors that—when embraced—help them side step health complications and enjoy a good, long life.

According to the Joslin research, one of the secret weapons is engaging in physical exercise. Those who are active appear to have fewer issues. Individuals with type 1 diabetes who are open to new ideas and take advantage of new technology also tend to be more successful, says George L. King, MD, director of research and head of the section on Vascular Cell Biology at Joslin Diabetes Center, and a Harvard Medical School professor of medicine. "Some 60 percent of the people in our study have an insulin pump. And remember, many of them are in their 70s!" he says.

By comparison, King explains, only about 20 percent of individuals with type 1 diabetes nationwide use the insulin pump. Individuals in his study also enjoy learning new skills. "Many have email accounts," he adds. "And they have no problem emailing me."

In the final analysis it comes down to a few basic principles: good diet and proper exercise; a good attitude and a strong support group. As for exercise, the kind you choose is up to you, but King advises it should be something you enjoy. "A lot of our study participants are ballroom dancers," he says. Educating yourself about type 1 diabetes is also essential. The more you learn about your condition and how best to manage it, the better, King says.

And finally, attitude matters. Lauren Golden, MD, an endocrinologist at the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia Medical Center in New York City says it can't be overstated. "Really try to have a positive outlook, which is not to say having diabetes isn't a lot of work," she admits. "But instead of just giving into it, set goals for yourself. Don't let diabetes run your life."

Of course, having support from family, friends, and your medical team is essential, too. "Find someone you can go to when you are feeling down," Golden advises. "Reach out to those around you. Work with your medical team to come up with a plan to take care of yourself."

George L. King, MD, reviewed this article.



Leonard, Kimberly. "How to manage type 1 diabetes as you age". U.S. News and World Report. 15 May 2103.