In 2005, data showed that more than 10.3 million people aged 60 years or older have diabetes. This figure represents 20.9 percent of that age group.

People can be diagnosed with diabetes at any age, and there are three main kinds of the disease: type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes.

Diabetes occurs when a person’s blood glucose (often called blood sugar) is too high. Blood always has some glucose in it because the body needs glucose for energy to keep it going. But too much glucose in the blood isn’t good for your health, according to the National Institute of Senior Health (NIH).

Glucose comes from the food people eat and is also made in the liver and muscles. Your blood carries the glucose to all of the cells in your body. Insulin is a chemical (a hormone) made by the pancreas, which releases insulin into the blood. Insulin helps the glucose from food get into your cells.

If your body does not make enough insulin or if the insulin doesn’t work the way it should, glucose can’t get into your cells and it stays in the blood instead. Your blood glucose level then gets too high, causing pre-diabetes or diabetes.

Signs of diabetes include being very thirsty, urinating often, feeling very hungry or tired, losing weight without trying, having sores heal slowly, having dry, itchy skin, losing the feeling in your feet or having tingling in your feet and having blurry eyesight. However, says the NIH, some people with diabetes do not have signs at all.

Diabetes is a very serious disease. Over time, diabetes that is not well controlled can cause serious damage to the eyes, kidneys, nerves, heart, gums and teeth. When you have diabetes, you are more than twice as likely as people without diabetes to have a heart attack or a stroke, and your risk of a heart attack or stroke is the same as someone who has already had a heart attack or stroke.

The best defense against the complications of diabetes is controlling blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol.

Type 2 diabetes, the most common form, is linked to obesity, high blood pressure and abnormal cholesterol levels. About 80 percent of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight, and being overweight can keep the body from using insulin properly.

Making modest lifestyle changes can often prevent or delay type 2 diabetes in people who are at risk. The following are some tips from the NIH that may help:

Reach and maintain a reasonable body weight. Your weight affects your health in many ways. Being overweight can keep your body from making and using insulin properly and can also cause high blood pressure. Recent studies have shown that losing even a modest amount of weight can help reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

In the Diabetes Prevention Program, people who lost five to seven percent of their body weight significantly reduced their risk of type 2 diabetes. So if you weigh 200 pounds, losing only 10 pounds can make a difference.

Make healthy food choices. What you eat has a big impact on your health. By making healthy food choices, you can help control your body weight, blood pressure and cholesterol

Be physically active every day. Regular exercise tackles several risk factors at once. It helps you to lose weight, control your cholesterol and blood pressure, and improves your body’s use of insulin. People in the program study who were physically active 30 minutes a day, five days a week, reduced their weight and risk of type 2 diabetes. Many chose walking for exercise.