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What to do if someone enters diabetic shock behind the wheel

People with type 2 diabetes may also find their symptoms very mild or non-existent as they reflect signs of the ageing process.

As people get older, the risk of developing type two diabetes increases. (Source: Shutterstock)

As people get older, the risk of developing type two diabetes increases. (Source: Shutterstock)

Key points:

  • It is important to pull over if you begin to feel unwell, put on your emergency signal and call for help or signal to other motorists in case you begin to feel unwell
  • Ensure that your car is stocked with carbohydrates and sweets to treat hypoglycemia — although, liquid works faster, so some cordial in the centre console or glove compartment
  • If you are pulled over by police whilst feeling unwell, symptoms of diabetes may be confused for intoxication by law enforcement, such as sweet breath, unsteady movement and disorientation


This edition of Aged Care Guide will provide an overview of driving with diabetes, how diabetes is likely to impact older people and symptoms of diabetic shock. Diabetic shock is characterised by an elevated heart rate, confusion, sweating, tremors and feeling weak.

Between 85 – 90 percent of people with diabetes will be diagnosed with type two, with people aged over 80 almost 30 times more likely to be living with diabetes than people under 40.

Although some people are born with type one diabetes, which requires lifelong management and planning, many older Aussies develop type two diabetes later in life. Type two diabetes is linked to obesity, smoking, inactivity and a genetic likelihood (ie. parents, grandparents or siblings with type two diabetes). 

What is type two diabetes?

Type two diabetes is acquired later in life, as the body begins to develop an insulin resistance and is then unable to produce regular levels of it in the pancreas. Although there is no singular cause of type two diabetes, there is an Aged Care Guide for probable causes of the condition.

Symptoms of type two diabetes include:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Weakness, tiredness and fatigue
  • Blurred vision
  • Itching
  • Skin infections
  • Gradual weight gain (type 2)
  • Leg cramps
  • Headaches and dizziness
  • Mood swings
  • Slow healing

People with type two diabetes may experience a ‘diabetic shock’ or ‘diabetic crash’ when their blood sugar levels rapidly drop and their body is unable to operate as it normally would when monitored and treated regularly with insulin.

Symptoms of a diabetic shock include:

  • Feeling anxious
  • Headaches
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Sweating
  • Shaking

Diabetic shock may lead to a diabetic coma if left untreated with insulin, carbohydrate-heavy food or non-diet sugary drinks. A diabetic coma will lead a person to become unresponsive, unconscious and unable to help themselves get treatment. As a result, a person with type two diabetes should pull over whenever possible and find something to support their glucose levels before entering a coma, if they begin to sense the early signs of hypoglycemia or diabetic shock.

Driving with diabetes

To drive with diabetes, ensure that you have a medical certificate for insulin every two years or if managing the condition with the use of tablets, every five years. Similarly, your general practitioner (GP) and motor insurer should know about your intentions to drive with diabetes, as an accident behind the wheel is possible and if caused by undisclosed diabetes, may fall on the insured party to cover all damages. Further, it is necessary to inform the Driver Licensing Authority (DLA) in  your State or Territory about the condition to ensure that you are fit to drive. Having a blood glucose level monitor to ensure that you are above the 5mmol/L (five millimoles per litre) standard. For more information, visit Diabetes Australia to learn about how to prepare as a driver. 


Related content:

Top health concerns for older people

Keeping healthy physically in your old age

The importance of elderly nutrition



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