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Guess What? It’s Diabetes Education Week

Diabetes is a common disease, but if not properly monitored and addressed, it can be dangerous—especially for seniors. Diabetes Education Week is November 4-10 this year, and serves as a reminder to all of us that we need to eat right, exercise, and take preventative measures against diabetes at all ages.

As you may know, there are two different forms of diabetes: Type 1, and Type 2. Type 1 diabetes is less common, and happens when your body makes little or no insulin on its own. This type can be present in older adults, but is seen more commonly in children and young adults. The other form of diabetes, Type 2, happens when your body is producing insulin but not utilizing it properly to regulate your blood sugar. This is the more common form of diabetes, and affects older individuals more frequently. It is also more common in patients who are overweight, inactive, or have a family history of the disease.

In fact, more than 25 percent of the U.S. population age 65 and older has diabetes. Diabetes in older adults is linked to higher mortality rates and increases the risk for complications of the disease. Older adults with diabetes are also more at risk for lower-extremity amputation, visual impairment, and renal issues. Some common signs to look for when determining if you should talk to your doctor about diabetes are feelings of tiredness, hunger, or thirst, rapid weight loss, frequent urination, or blurred vision. Additionally, skin infections and slowly-healing skin are symptoms that you shouldn’t ignore. A more complete list of symptoms can be found here.

For seniors living with diabetes, the most effective ways of keeping symptoms under control are through healthy lifestyle choices. Besides ensuring you are following the guidance of your doctors and taking the medications you need, most of which are covered through Medicare Part D, you should focus on healthy eating habits and getting plenty of exercise.

Staying educated on the diseases that affect aging Americans is extremely important. Knowing your family health history, following the advice of your doctor, and paying close attention to your body are the best ways to monitor for diabetes and other illnesses. As seniors, we also have the experience necessary to effectively educate those around us—so keep your knowledge on this topic sharp and make sure you are spreading that awareness to your family and other communities this Diabetes Education Week.

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Advocates Speak Out: Randy Munoz of Latino Diabetes Association

Randy Munoz is vice chair of the Latino Diabetes Association. He spoke with Seniors Speak Out’s Nona Bear about issues seniors in his area face, particularly those with diabetes. Below is an abridged version of the interview.

Nona Bear (NB): What community do you serve and how long have you been advocating for patients/seniors? How did you start?

Randy Munoz (RM): I have been a part of the Latino Coalition for ten years. A previous coworker told me about this association and started it on paper, but asked me to get it off the ground. At the time, even though diabetes was in my family, I did not know much about it. He suggested we learn about it together. I secured our very first funding of $5,000 from Kaiser and I got our office space donated. It was a long struggle and it continues to be so. I’ve been with the organization since the very beginning and am the Vice Chair. I’m looking to add a couple more members to the board.

logo (1)NB: Does the coalition serve people with diabetes of all ages?

RM: We serve people of all ages but are especially focused on adults and seniors – our parents, the mothers, and the grandmothers. They are the caretakers and caregivers of the family. You have to care for the caregiver. You have to educate them and give them resources because they are treating the children, the spouse, and the parents. It goes on for generations.

NB: You have been involved with senior advocacy for over 10 years, through Part D’s existence – what changes have you seen the Part D program make in the lives of seniors?

RM: It is a tremendous program. It’s one of the few programs that actually works and that seniors, historically, have been very happy with. But with dwindling resources and cuts unfortunately here in California with the governor moving medications over to HMOs, changes to the Part D program would have a negative effect for seniors, who are already struggling with out-of-pocket expenses. They have to make tough choices to pay for rent or for other relevant health costs. This is a real cause for concern for seniors.

NB: With regards to potential threats to the program, what are some issues that seniors still struggle with regarding the Part D program?

RM: It really goes back to their medication coverage and protecting and securing current benefit. It’s a real fear that seniors have. It’s really tough when you’re living on $700/$800 a month and even $1000. These seniors are living in poverty and these are the seniors that secured our future through wars and trials and tribulations, and now is our time to give back to them. The promise that we made to them is dwindling and that’s a shame. They shouldn’t live in fear, they should feel secure. They should have more, not less.

NB: What are some key questions seniors should discuss with their doctors and pharmacists in relation to their Part D coverage?

RM: Well, they should ask – What is my current coverage and how will the proposed changes to Part D affect us?

I don’t know if the doctors will know all the time, but they need to know the differences between the coverage of generic and brand name medications and their care. They really need to engage and need to bring a witness to their doctor so there are two sets of eyes and ears. They should try to take notes.

In our organization, we hand out a form for seniors to fill out with all their medications, dosages, and who their primary doctor and medical information is. They update it but they go so often it’s difficult to keep it updated. I wish they had a more high-tech tool to track it.

NB:  What impact would altering the Part D LIS program, that provides extra help to Medicare beneficiaries in need, to increase co-pays on brand name drugs have on your community?

RM: Not to sound over the top, but it will be detrimental to seniors, to their health, to their quality of life, and to their wellness leading to more disability and death. If it’s not broken, don’t try to fix it, especially when these elected officials don’t have to worry about their healthcare. These seniors are living beyond paycheck-to-paycheck. They have to save for everything and they have to make more and more tough choices.