There are some risk factors associated with diabetic retinopathy that cannot be controlled. However there are others that can be controlled through changes to diet and lifestyle.
It is important to see your GP, diabetes specialist, optometrist and/or ophthalmologist regularly as recommended. Be guided by their advice and do not cancel or delay appointments unless absolutely essential.
Blood glucose levels
Strict control of blood glucose levels (sometimes called 'sugar levels') will significantly reduce the long-term risk of vision loss. Diet and exercise, along with prescribed medications, are key to achieving control of blood glucose. A diabetes educator will often work with the GP and provide detailed self-management education.
Blood glucose levels can be monitored at home with a blood glucose meter, which is available from diabetes educators, your state/territory diabetes organisation and most pharmacies. A diabetes educator or pharmacist can help to choose a meter and provide proper training. Talking blood glucose meters are also available for people with vision impairment. A periodic blood test of HbA1c is also recommended as this gives an indication of blood glucose control over several months.
The National Diabetes Services Scheme (NDSS) which is an Australian Government scheme administered by Diabetes Australia provides subsidised access to diabetes self-management products and supports.
Talking blood glucose meters are available through diabetes organisations.
Regular physical activity, including aerobic exercise and resistance training, is an important part of optimal diabetes management. Aerobic exercise can include brisk walking, running, cycling, swimming and dancing. Resistance exercises like modest weight training improve muscle strength and complement the benefits of aerobic exercise.
Physical activity can also be an effective way to manage stress levels and release tension, both of which are important for managing blood glucose levels. Always talk to your GP or diabetes health professional before embarking on a new exercise plan.
To find out about the activities available in your area, contact your local council or if you are elderly, your local seniors group.
For information on sporting organisations and activities for people with low vision call Blind Sports Australia.
If assistance is required to navigate around your home, neighbourhood or wider community due to low vision, consider undertaking orientation and mobility training.
Nutrition is critical to manage blood glucose levels. Healthy eating for diabetes includes selecting high fibre, lower glycemic index (GI) carbohydrate foods and reducing fat, especially saturated fat. Food intake should be balanced with exercise to maintain a healthy body weight.
Always talk to the GP before embarking on or changing a diet.
Ask the GP for a referral to an Accredited Practising Dietitian and diabetes education program for support on healthy eating, including a healthy meal plan tailored to individual needs. Further information on diet is available from Diabetes Australia and State Diabetes Associations.