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Ageing Well with Diabetes

At age 64 Alan Mirfin, who has Type 1 diabetes, is still employed and works a 40 hour week. "I am as active as I can be. I'm fit, walk to work, garden weekends, and lead a pretty busy life."

 Read more from Agewell.  

By Mike Milstein

Diabetes Awareness took place during November. Diabetes is a medical condition that affects many people. Type 1 diabetes, which usually occurs during childhood, is due to the pancreas no longer producing insulin. Type 2, or adult onset diabetes, occurs later in life and is due to the muscles becoming resistant to insulin.

At age 64 Alan Mirfin, who has Type 1 diabetes, is still employed and works a 40 hour week. “I am as active as I can be. I’m fit, walk to work, garden weekends, and lead a pretty busy life.”  But he recognizes that, as he ages, there will be significant challenges regarding diabetes. “I’m always going to have injections. That is not likely to change. I can foresee problems in future years if my memory starts to fail. Have I had my injection? How much insulin should I take? How much did I take last time? That sort of thing does worry me.”    

In May of 1959, Alan was 14 and at boarding school when he was diagnosed with Type 1diabetes. “After a few weeks being stabilized in the hospital, I had to think things through. How would I deal with injections? How would I deal with teen parties? I had to be thinking all the time so I didn’t get in trouble. It was very easy to have too much exercise, causing low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia. You become disoriented and incoherent and people think you are either on drugs or alcohol.”

Alan says “I was happy go lucky and didn’t really look after myself as far as my diabetes goes. As the years have gone by I have been more conscious of keeping to diet and becoming fit and healthy.”

“The regime for controlling my diabetes has changed dramatically. During the early days the treatment was one large injection with many units of insulin that stayed on board for 24 hours. Today the regime is totally different—the same amount, but in much lower does, 5 times a day.’

“It’s not easy to keep control of my diabetes as I age. I’ve had to think about my activities, what I am doing and how much I can do. I’m not as fit as I was previously when I could run for quite long distances. Now it’s brisk walking. Diabetes is controlled much better if you exercise and do it regularly”

“Treatment that is available and the help and support in Nelson is extremely good, especially by the Nelson Branch of Diabetes in New Zealand, which I have belonged to for more than 50 years. “Unfortunately, as good as Diabetes New Zealand is, the number of people attending meetings, which are held regularly in Nelson, have not increased greatly.”

“The medical people in Nelson provide training information and bring us up to date through courses from time to time. Many people with diabetes probably get a certain amount of information from the medical profession. Medical practitioners and their practice nurses follow up people with diabetes, providing free annual check ups. “

Alan is positive about life. “If you have diabetes there is no reason why you shouldn’t have a full and healthy life. As I’ve proved to myself, it can be done, but you do need to think about it and look after yourself. If you don’t you are the one who is going to suffer. Play by the book, obey the rules correctly and you should be able to lead a full, active, and long life. With today’s diabetes treatment regime there is no reason to get in trouble. Keep a sensible diet, do all the right things, and you should be able to have a good life.”

Note: This article, which was published in The Leader, Nelson, NZ, on December 10, 2009,  summarizes an interview aired by Fresh FM that was conducted by Dr. Annie Henry and sponsored by Age Concern, Nelson. If you want to share your thoughts with the Conscious Ageing Network (CAN) or wish to know when interviews will be aired and when CAN articles will appear in the Leader, send an email to