Life Expectancy and Diabetes

Got questions about life with diabetes? So do we! That is why we offer our weekly diabetes information column, Ask D’Mine, hosted by veteran type 1, diabetes writer and instructor Wil Dubois.

This week, Wil takes on a significant issue that needs some straight-up honesty, regarding our expected life spans with diabetes on board. Yeah, even though the mantra of Your Diabetes May Vary applies, it is a big question for all of us.

Bev, type 3 in Kansas, writes: A friend of mine, age 69, is a diabetic having the insulin pump.   She is also an alcoholic. I know this would be very general, but what will her life expectancy be?

Wil@Ask D’Mine replies: Funny, that’s the first question my wife asked the doctor once I was diagnosed. His answer, following a loooooooong hesitation, was : “He will not make it beyond 80.”

I’ve told that story quite a few occasions to groups of people with diabetes–normally ones who also possess insulin pumps and could arguably be classified as at least part-time alcoholics (we diabetes authors are a hard-partying bunch when together)–and my poor physician has been roundly criticized for making that forecast. However, I admire him for having the balls to choose a number. Was it the ideal number? We’ll look at that in a moment, but he had more courage than I do when patients ask me the exact same question.

That is because I always say 100. It’s not true of course, as hardly any people live to be 100 years old. According to the United Nations, you will find only 316,000 centenarians in the entire world. We happen to have the largest number of them here in our own country (with approximately 17 percent of the total), followed closely by Japan, where 16% of those super-old live. Although, if you adjust for population size, Japan requires a commanding lead. As a proportion of population Japan is then followed by Thailand, Spain, France, Italy, South Africa, Canada, the uk, Germany, Sweden, Australia, and finally us, the U.S. of important countries that bother monitoring such matters, somewhat surprisingly given how well their acquaintances perform, China has the lowest proportion of super-old people.

Wait a sec, you ask, so why aren’t you giving it to your patients straight? Well, though most people will not make it to 100, anybody theoretically could. Therefore my point is that if you look after your diabetes it shouldn’t lower your life span.

Just in concept, because the evidence demonstrates that diabetes absolutely requires a toll on life span. Recently in early April, new studies demonstrated that type 1 may shave 12 years off a individual’s life.

Is this simply because most people really don’t do a very good job of taking care of their diabetes? Likely not, as the latest research also shows that tight control may have nothing to do with life span. However, I love to feel that it is possible. And backing up my optimism, I have a lot of very elderly individuals, some of whom have experienced diabetes almost as long as I’ve been alive.

However, you are after a true quantitative answer, not a feel-good motivational number. So let’s see if we can, scientifically, determine how long your friend is very likely to last. What do we know about the impact of type 1 on daily life span? Well, it is not great news, but it is improving.

At the 1970s, study demonstrated that type 1 diabetes accelerates life expectancy by a whole 27 decades. A decade later, that number had improved to some 16-and-a-half year shortened life. The latest data, from Scotland, reveals that man T1s like me ought to expect 11 fewer years than our sisters without diabetes, and also our T1 sisters ought to expect 13 fewer years than non-D women (recall that girls always live longer than men–their reward from their creator for putting up with us).

Obviously, having an alcoholic also shortens your life. The latest data, appearing at hard-drinking people in Manchester, England, indicates that alcoholism will knock 7.6 years off your life. Life expectancy clock

So that your friend has two clocks working — alcohol and diabetes — and we can utilize those risk factors to predict just how much her life will be shortened. But how long you lose does not tell you much if you don’t know just how much to expect in the first place, right? So just how long do people really live, in general, in our country? To find out that, I reached out into the friendly statisticians in the National Center of Health Statistics, and they explained : It depends.

Well, that was not very helpful, was it?

That is because just how long you last depends on your gender, your ethnicity, and the year you were born. It also depends on how wealthy you are, how great your access to health care is, what part of this county you live in, the type of work you perform, and more.

While there is no way we can figure out all those things we can take the two most powerful indicators–gender and birth year– then adjust those to the two largest risk factors: The diabetes and the boozing.

As your friend is 69, we’ll assume she had been born in 1947. According to the Social Security Administration, her “cohort life expectancy” as a woman born in that year, is 78.7 decades. Next, let’s knock off 13 years to get her type 1 diabetesthe missing years you women ought to expect from the latest research–and another 7.6 years for her drinking problem.

Let us see here, so that’s 78.7 – 13 –  7.6 = 58.1

Ah. OK. By this calculation, your friend would have been dead for nearly eleven years. So I guess you should stop worrying about her.

So much for science fiction. This is the reason why I just tell people they will live to be 100. Interestingly, about half the people I talk to appreciate that notion, and approximately half flatly say that there is no way in heaven or hell they want to live that long. While there are exceptions, younger people have a tendency to like a longer expiry date, while elderly people have had enough and find the thought of living to 100 distasteful.

So the message here is that your friend has already lived longer than could be expected, and by a fairly good margin. That really means the sky’s the limit, as the numbers hide a secret. My father was a statistician, and I recall he taught that, in his day, most men didn’t make it from the upper sixties, but the ones who did were likely to live to be 90 as not. Life expectancy really only shows us where the reaper is parked. Once you get beyond there, the odds actually favor you.

And what about me? Was my doc right when he predicted the shooter that 80 was my top limit? I was born in 1963, so a man born that year (who does not have diabetes and isn’t a part-time alcoholic) has an expected lifetime of 75.3 decades. So really, my doc did what I do. He picked a number that suggested my diabetes could have no actual effect on my life span.

Working on this column, I discovered this quite interesting Life Expectancy Calculator online. It requires you though several pages of risk factors and predicts how long you will live. The only bummer is that you have to give them an email to get the results. Anyhow, according to the website, once I answered all of the questions honestly, it called I’d live to be 84 years old, saying, “You are going to endure for 31 more years!”

Then it asked: “Do you have enough money saved to live that long?”

Maybe I shouldn’t have given them my email address. Now they will send me fiscal spam for another 31 decades.

Then, just for fun, I wanted to see if I’d already be dead if I answered all the questions with the worst possible replies. I guess, because when I did that, the answer came out: “Your life expectancy is ? Years”

Yep. If I lived badly enough, I’d be dead. The same as your friend. But I bet she’ll live to be 80. Or perhaps even 100.

This isn’t a medical advice column. We are PWDs publicly and publicly sharing the wisdom of our accumulated experiences — our been-there-done-that understanding from the trenches. But we are not MDs, RNs, NPs, PAs, CDEs, or partridges in pear trees. Bottom line: we are only a small part of your total prescription. You still require the professional guidance, treatment, and maintenance of a licensed medical professional.

Disclaimer: Content created by the Diabetes Mine team. For additional information click here.


This content is created for Diabetes Mine, a customer health blog focused on the diabetes community. The content is not medically reviewed and does not adhere to Healthline’s editorial instructions. For more information regarding Healthline’s partnership with Diabetes Mine, please click here.

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