Psychosocial Factors and Ethnic Disparities in Diabetes Diagnosis and Treatment among Older Adults

Article excerpt

The prevalence of non--insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus type 2 (NIDDM) increases with age, and more than 50 percent of patients with diabetes are over the age of 65 (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Office of Public Health and Science, 1998). It is estimated that 3.6 million people age 65 or older are afflicted with this disease, the majority of whom have type 2, noninsulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) (Rubin, Altman, Altman, & Mendelson, 1994). The prevalence of diabetes at age 60 is 10 percent, and by age 80 it rises to 16 percent to 20 percent for white people. The death rate for cardiovascular disease among elderly diabetic patients is twice that of people without diabetes in the same age range (Harris, 1990a).

Not only is diabetes a heavy burden on older adults, but also is expensive to society in terms of disability, mortality, and health care costs. The majority of health care expenses are for inpatient costs, with most being attributed to the care of cardiovascular complications. Per capita expenditures for confirmed diabetics were more than four times greater than for people without diabetes (Caruso & Silliman, 1999; Rubin et al., 1994). People age 65 or older with diabetes make an average of 3.7 visits per year to physicians specifically for care of their diabetes. These diabetes care visits represented 7.7 percent of visits for all health causes in this age group. About 30 percent of diabetics 65 to 74 years of age are hospitalized each year, a rate almost twice that for nondiabetic elderly people (Harris, 1990a, 1990b).By any measurement, diabetes is a major health concern for older adults in this country (Haan & Weldon, 1996), yet one-third of those affected by the disease are unaware they have it (CDC Diab etes Cost-Effectiveness Study Group, 1998). Information is limited about people who have diabetes but are not yet in treatment. Undiagnosed diabetes in older adults presents a challenge, as this group's elevated blood sugar levels seem to carry an elevated risk of morbidity and mortality compared with those of older adults with a diagnosis of diabetes who are in treatment. In a comparison study of older men and women who were not previously known to have diabetes and older men and women who had diabetes, one-third of undiagnosed people had elevated serum glucose levels compared with those already diagnosed (DECODE Study Group, 1999).


A number of cross-sectional and prospective studies have found that the risk factors for development of type 2 diabetes among African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans are approximately2, 2.5, and 5 times greater, respectively, than for white people (Haffner, 1998; Harris, Eastman, Cowie, Flegal, & Eberhardt, 1999; Harris, Sherman, & Georgopoulos, 1999). Lower socioeconomic status (SES) has been associated with risk of developing the disease (Gaillard, Schuster, Bossetti, Green, & Osei, 1997) as well as with the prognosis for compliance with treatment and achieving control of blood glucose levels (Hooyman & Asuman, 1999; Terpstra & Terpstra, 1998). There is also evidence that racial and ethnic differences may influence the severity of the disease and its complications. For example, one study noted that people of minority racial and ethnic groups had higher glycohemoglobin levels than white people (Delamater et al., 1999). Harris s review indicated that black people experience vision loss, amputations , and renal disease rates one and a half to four times higher than white people (Harris, 1990b). Harris also found that white people with diabetes have approximately 40 percent more visits to office-based physicians each year than people of color (Harris, 1990b), suggesting differences in access to and use of health care services. In a national survey, Mexican American men and African American women had the poorest glycemic control and were least likely to self-monitor blood glucose levels compared with other patient subgroups (Harris, Eastman, et al. …


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