Older diabetics struggle to use high-tech blood sugar trackers the NHS is rolling out to revolutionise their care, a study claims.
Last year 400,000 Britons with the disease were offered the devices, called continuous glucose monitors, which track blood sugar levels via a sensor in the arm.
The data is beamed to an app on the patient’s phone which can send them alerts if their blood sugar is too low or high. The technology does away with finger-prick blood tests, which diabetics have had to endure several times a day.
But researchers in the US have found that the digital devices can be a stumbling block for people over 65. During the study, three-quarters of participants allowed blood sugars to drop to seriously low levels without noticing.
The NHS gave out continuous glucose monitors to 400,000 diabetics last year which continually test the patient’s blood sugar levels and warns them if they are dangerously low or high
Traditionally, diabetics had to do a finger tip test several times a day to determine whether their blood sugar levels were correct
Some 4.9 million Britons have diabetes, 90 per cent of them with the form known as type 2, which is typically triggered by excess body fat. The other main form of diabetes, called type 1, is genetic.
In both cases, patients lack sufficient levels of insulin, a hormone that helps blood sugar from food to enter the body’s cells so it can be used for energy. Uncontrolled blood sugar levels can lead to long-term complications, including eye problems, nerve damage and potential limb loss, as well as heart disease. So diabetics must regularly monitor their blood sugar levels and administer insulin shots if they get too high, or eat if too low.
Continuous glucose monitors are approved for all type 1 diabetics and type 2 patients with severe diabetes-related health problems. But scientists at the Regenstrief Institute in Indianapolis found that when 70 older people were given the gadgets for two weeks, they failed to use them properly.
Dr Michael Weiner, professor of medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine who led the trial, described the results as ‘extremely concerning’.
Professor Partha Kar, NHS England’s national speciality adviser for diabetes, says he was aware of the issue in the UK.
‘Teaching elderly people how to use a blood glucose monitor is very different to teaching someone young. But there are things we can do. Patients can choose to share their data with their consultant, so they can keep an eye on them from afar.
‘With some types of monitors, you can give the patient a separate digital device and tell them to keep it on them at all times. This seems to work better.’