Diabetes is a set of diseases related to high blood sugar caused by either, or both, a deficiency in insulin production or an inability of the body to use the insulin produced. Diabetes can strike at any age, but some types are more prevalent during different time periods than others. Because the incidence of type 1 and type 2 diabetes are not limited to children or adults, the old designators of adult-onset and juvenile diabetes are no longer used. Now, the age at which diabetes is diagnosed is considered a separate measurement that may help diagnose and treat the specific type a person has.
Adult Onset Diabetes
Most people with diabetes have type 2, the kind of diabetes that occurs when the body loses its ability to efficiently process and use insulin. This type of diabetes is linked to obesity and lifestyle, so many people don't develop it until later in life. Some people do develop type 1 diabetes in adulthood. In 2007, about 1.6 million people over the age of 20 were diagnosed with diabetes for the first time in the U.S., according to the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse.
Juvenile diabetes occurs when someone under the age of 18 develops any form of diabetes. In most cases, juvenile diabetes is type 1, the kind of diabetes caused by a complete or partial lack of production of insulin. This happens because the immune system attacks and destroys the cells in the pancreas that normally make and secrete insulin. However, type 2 diabetes has been increasing in prevalence, especially as obesity rates in kids and teens has risen. According to the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse, about 0.2 percent of all people under 20, or 186,300 individuals as of 2007, has diabetes.
A rare type of diabetes called monogenic diabetes may develop in infants or children. Often mistaken for type 1 diabetes, monogenic diabetes is actually caused by a single gene and may be classified as permanent neonatal diabetes mellitus, transient neonatal diabetes and maturity-onset diabetes of the young. These may be lifelong conditions or may be outgrown by the child as he or she ages.
Gestational diabetes is not tied to a specific age, but only develops in women of childbearing years who are already pregnant. However, the risk for developing gestational diabetes does rise with the age of the mother, with women who become pregnant after age 25 at higher risk for the condition. Women who are 35 and older may be more at risk for complications related to the disease if they do develop it. Gestational diabetes often goes away after the birth of the baby, but women who have it are more likely to go on to develop type 2 diabetes later in life.
It is rare for elderly individuals to develop type 1 diabetes, but it is possible. Most cases of diabetes in elderly people are type 2 diabetes, and the risk for developing this type of diabetes rises as people get older. Elderly individuals who develop diabetes may have special concerns, such as the concurrent existence of other diseases and a limited tolerance for medications.