Some medicines require that you get periodic tests to evaluate whether the drug is working properly. For example, if you take warfarin (brand name Coumadin) to reduce your risk of having a heart attack or stroke, you need to get regular blood tests to make sure you’re getting the right dose. Oral diabetes medicines in the thiazolidinedione class, such as pioglitazone (brand name Actos), also require certain blood tests because they have the potential to cause liver damage. If you take one of these drugs to control your blood glucose, read the package insert and talk to your doctor to make sure you’re getting the tests you should have.
Last but not least, many medicines can interact with other ones. An interaction can increase or decrease the effectiveness of one of the drugs or cause unwanted side effects. To prevent drug interactions, make sure that your doctor and your pharmacist know about everything you’re taking — that means all prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs, herbs, and supplements. It helps to buy all your prescription drugs at one pharmacy, so the pharmacist has a complete list at his fingertips. In addition, once a year, bring all your drugs and supplements to a doctor’s appointment and ask him to check for possible interactions.
Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States; the American Lung Association estimates that it’s responsible for one in five deaths each year. Older adults are reported to be less likely to have tried to quit, possibly because many believe that smoking does not harm their health. The fact is that smoking does harm your health — and that quitting smoking has proven health benefits, even for older people. Smoking raises your risk for lung disease and cancer, and, because it narrows your blood vessels, it also increases your chances of developing heart disease or having a stroke. When you stop smoking, your circulation improves immediately, and your lungs begin to repair damage from the tar and toxic substances contained in cigarette smoke. One year after quitting, the added risk of heart disease that comes with smoking is reduced by one half, and over time, the risk of stroke, lung disease, and cancer also decrease.
If you currently smoke and are ready to stop, talk to your doctor. You and he can discuss ways to quit successfully. Quit-smoking programs through organizations such as the American Lung Association or the American Heart Association may be available in your community. You can find the phone numbers of your local chapters of these organizations in the phone book.
Keep an eye on eye care
Older people often experience vision problems such as cataracts (cloudy or hazy spots on the lens of the eye), macular degeneration (the breakdown of the part of the retina that gives us sharp, central vision), and glaucoma (a condition in which pressure builds up in the eye and damages the optic nerve). These conditions can lead to impaired vision or vision loss, which can interfere with your quality of life and increase your risk of falls and fractures. Having diabetes can affect your eyes as well. It doubles your risk for glaucoma, and it can cause a condition called retinopathy, in which damage to the retina causes vision loss.
You can help prevent diabetes-related eye problems by keeping your blood glucose level as close to normal as possible. The next best thing to prevention is early detection; catching eye problems early makes it easier to treat them successfully and prevent vision loss. Because glaucoma and retinopathy often show no symptoms until you start to lose vision, it’s important to get screened for them regularly. The American Diabetes Association recommends having a dilated eye exam every year, even if you don’t notice any changes in your vision. If you do notice vision changes, especially sudden ones, don’t wait for your annual exam — let your health-care provider know right away. Medicare Part B covers one dilated eye exam each year for people with diabetes. If you don’t have Medicare, check to see what your plan covers.