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A Full and Long Life, Despite Diabetes
Date:11/14/2007

's just another part of your life," said 73-year-old Alan Lewis, professor emeritus of oceanography at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver.

Lewis was first diagnosed with type 1 diabetes 69 years ago but has also spent most of his adult life as a competitive swimmer. He only eased up on the competition at age 71, after a back injury got in the way of his breaststroke.

That setback is only temporary, he said. "The old juices are still flowing, so I have a feeling that I will get back into competitive swimming in about a year," Lewis said.

Experts say that type of can-do attitude, coupled with steadfast attention to blood sugar monitoring, diet and exercise, are the keys that allow diabetics to live well into their 70s, 80s, and even beyond.

Diabetes care has certainly improved since the Clevelands and Lewis were diagnosed as children. Today, high-tech pocket-sized glucose monitors mean quick, easy blood-sugar monitoring is literally at your fingertips. Insulin delivery is also easier than ever.

In the 1930s and 1940s, however, blood sugar could only be tested at home via urine sampling, which provided patients with only a much-delayed look at blood glucose levels. Medical crises -- moments when sugar levels dipped so low a coma might result -- were common.

"When you talk to the elderly with diabetes who have gotten to live to today, they have lived through a time and place when we really couldn't take care of diabetes very well," said Dr. Larry Deeb, immediate past president for medicine and science at the American Diabetes Association.

"However, even then, they made the commitment to take care of themselves," he added. "They reviewed their urine glucose, they took their insulin every day, they watched their diet and were active."

"It takes a huge commitment to take care of yourself with diabetes, to mind it every day," he said. "There's never a day off."

And yet,
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