Senior Lifestyle

Free diabetes tests are Medicare benefit

(StatePoint) — Could you have diabetes and not know it?

Approximately seven out of 10 adults aged 65 or older have diabetes or pre-diabetes and many don’t know it. Almost half of older Americans with diabetes aren’t aware they have the disease.

Olympia Dukakis and her husband, Louis Zorich, urge older Americans to get free diabetes screenings.

Fortunately, Medicare has been offering free diabetes screening to those at risk since 2005. But utilization has been low and many seniors remain undiagnosed. In fact, less than 10 percent of those eligible have taken advantage of the tests.

That’s why Oscar-winner Olympia Dukakis and her husband, actor Louis Zorich, are urging at-risk adults 65 and older to get screened. In partnership with Novo Nordisk, a global healthcare company headquartered in Denmark, they are spearheading an educational program known as Ask.Screen.Know. The program encourages people enrolled in Medicare to ask their healthcare providers about free diabetes screenings in order to know their blood sugar levels and what actions to take.

For Dukakis and her husband, this program hits close to home. Married for 47 years, the couple recently got tested and Zorich learned he has type 2 diabetes.

“When we learned that less than 10 percent of people with Medicare have taken advantage of the diabetes screening benefit, we knew we had to do something,” said Dukakis. “So we joined forces with Novo Nordisk to share our story. We asked, got screened and now know where our health stands relative to diabetes.”

With a history of diabetes in Zorich’s family, the time was right to be screened. “We want to be around for as long as possible for each other, and our family,” said Zorich. “Now that we know I have diabetes, we can manage the disease the right way, by exercising more and eating better.”

Why screen?

When your body doesn’t make enough insulin or prevents the insulin you produce from working properly, this could lead to diabetes. The condition requires that individuals do the work their bodies used to do automatically to maintain the insulin/glucose balance. The risk of type 2 diabetes, the most common form of diabetes, increases as you get older, often because people typically exercise less, lose muscle mass and gain weight as they age.

If left undiagnosed or unmanaged, diabetes can lead to blindness, kidney disease, foot amputation, heart disease and stroke.

But these issues often can be avoided.

Free Screenings

Medicare offers free diabetes screening for enrolled adults 65 and older who have at least one risk factor. These factors include family history, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity and a history of diabetes during pregnancy.

Aside from telling if you have diabetes, these tests also can identify a condition known as pre-diabetes. With pre-diabetes, blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not yet high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes.

If doctors suspect diabetes in patients with normal fasting blood glucose levels, they may recommend an oral glucose tolerance test, which also is covered by Medicare.

To obtain benefit information about the Medicare diabetes screening benefit, learn more about diabetes and pre-diabetes, and keep track of your blood sugar numbers, visit www.Ask The site even invites users to send personalized e-mails or voicemails from Dukakis to family members and friends, to help spread the word about the free Medicare diabetes screening.