SAVVY SENIOR
New rules in effect for reverse mortgages in 2014

 

April 15, 2014

Jim Miller



Q:
What can you tell me about reverse mortgages? I was considering one last year, but now I hear they are more difficult to get.


A:
That’s correct.

Tighter rules on reverse mortgages that have recently gone into effect have made them harder to get, especially for seniors with heavy debt problems.

The reason the Federal Housing Administration made these changes was to strengthen the product, which has suffered from a struggling housing market and a growing number of defaults by borrowers.

Here’s a rundown of how reverse mortgages now work in 2014.

Overview: The basics are still the same. A reverse mortgage is a loan that allows senior homeowners to borrow money against the equity in their house.

The loan doesn’t have to be repaid until the homeowner dies, sells the house or moves out for at least 12 months. It’s also important to know that with a reverse mortgage, you, not the bank, own the house, so you’re still responsible for property taxes, insurance and repairs.

Eligibility: To be eligible for a reverse mortgage you must be at least 62 years old, own your own home (or owe only a small balance) and currently be living there. You will also need to undergo a financial assessment to determine whether you can afford to make all the necessary tax and insurance payments over the projected life of the loan.

Lenders will look at your sources of income, assets and credit history. Depending on your financial situation, you may be required to put part of your loan into an escrow account to pay future bills.

If the financial assessment finds that you cannot pay your insurance and taxes and have enough cash left to live on, you will be denied.

Loans: Nearly all reverse mortgages offered today are home equity conversion mortgages, which are FHA insured and offered through private mortgage lenders and banks. HECMs also have home value limits that vary by county, but cannot exceed $625,500. See hud.gov/ll/code/llslcrit.cfm for a list of Housing and Urban Developmentapproved lenders.

Loan amounts: The amount you get through a reverse mortgage depends on your age, your home’s value and the prevailing interest rates. Generally, the older you are, the more your house is worth, and the lower the interest rates are, the more you can borrow. A 70-year-old, for example, with a home worth $300,000 could borrow around $170,000 with a fixed-rate HECM. To calculate how much you can borrow, visit reversemortgage.org.

Loan costs: Reverse mortgages have a number of upfront fees including a 2 percent lender origination fee for the first $200,000 of the home’s value and 1 percent of the remaining value, with a cap of $6,000; a 0.5 percent initial mortgage insurance premium fee; along with an appraisal fee, closing costs and other miscellaneous expenses. Most fees can be deducted for the loan amount to reduce your out-of-pocket cost at closing.

In addition, you’ll also have to pay an annual mortgage insurance premium of 1.25 percent of the loan amount.

Payment options: You can receive the money in a lump sum, a line of credit, regular monthly checks or a combination of these. But in most cases, you cannot withdraw more than 60 percent of the loan during the first year. If you do, you’ll pay a 2.5 percent upfront insurance premium fee.

Counseling: All borrowers are required to get face-to-face or telephone counseling through a HUDapproved independent counseling agency before taking out a reverse mortgage.

Some agencies are awarded grants that enable them to offer counseling for free, but most charge around $125 to $250. To locate a counseling agency near you, visit hud.gov/offices/hsg/sfh/he cm/hecmhome.cfm or call 800-569-4287.

NEXT TUESDAY: Elderly parents want to travel to daughter’s wedding. What airport or airline services are available?



 

Help for the hard of hearing 
April 8, 2014



Q:
What types of amplification products can you recommend to help people with hearing impairment? My 62-year-old husband has some hearing issues, but doesn’t think he needs a hearing aid, so I’m looking for some alternative devices that can help.


A:
If your husband is reluctant to get a hearing aid, there are dozens of “personal sound amplification products” that can help him hear better at a lower cost than most hearing aids, which can run up to $3,000 each.

PSAPs are over-thecounter electronic products (they are not Food and Drug Administration approved medical devices like hearing aids) that come in many different shapes and sizes that will give your husband the ability to adjust the volume and tone so he can hear better in different situations.

It’s also important to know that PSAPs work best for people with mild to moderate hearing impairment, you don’t need a prescription to buy them, and they usually aren’t covered by insurance or Medicare.

Before you look into PSAPs, your husband should probably get tested by an audiologist who can rule out any medical issues that could be affecting his hearing like excessive ear wax, an infection, abnormal bone growth or inner-ear tumor.

Audiologists are also familiar with the different PSAPs and can help your husband choose the best products to meet his needs, or let him know if a hearing aid would be a better option.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the different PSAPs that can help.


TV and telephone amplifiers: To hear the television better, there are a number of TV listening devices on the market that will let your husband increase the volume and adjust the tone to meet his needs, without blasting out you or the rest of the family.

The best options available today are wireless infrared or radio frequency systems that come with standard or stethoset headphones. Sennheiser (sennheiser.com, 877-736-6434) makes some of the best TV listening products sold today with prices running between $250 and $350.

If hearing over the telephone is a problem, a handset or in-line amplifier can be added to your phone for a few dollars, or you can purchase an amplified telephone. Most amplified phones allow you to adjust the volume and tone for better clarity and they usually come with extra loud ringers and flashing ring indicators to alert you when a call is coming in.

Some top makers of these products are Clarity (clarityproducts. com, 800-426-3738), ClearSounds (clearsounds. com, 800-965-9043) and Serene Innovations (sereneinnovations.com, 866-376-9271), with prices ranging anywhere from $30 up to around $300. Or, see if your state has a specialized telecommunications equipment program (see tedpa.org), which provides amplified telephones for free.


Personal sound amplifiers: For better hearing in noisy environments, your husband should get a personal sound amplifier that’s designed to amplify hard-tohear sounds (like voices), while reducing background noise. Able Planet (ableplanet. com, 877-266-1979) offers two excellent products that fit the bill that are worn either in-ear or behind the ear, and run $475 or $500 for one, or $850 or $900 a pair.

To help improve hearing at home or in quieter settings, or if your husband has high-frequency hearing loss, check out the Bean Quiet Sound Amplifier by Etymoyic (qsabean.com, 888-389-6684). This product, which is worn in the ear, provides amplification to high frequencies more than low ones, making speech easier to hear and understand. Cost: $700 a pair or $375 for one.

If these are too pricy, there are also a number of small hand-held amplifiers that come with a small microphone and ear buds that can increase volume without all the other features. These products typically run around $100 or less, and are available through companies like Sonic Technology Products (sonictechnology.com, 800-247-5548), Sonic Alert (sonicalert. com, 800-566-3210) and Harris Communications (harriscomm.com, 800-825-6758).

NEXT TUESDAY: How do reverse mortgages work in 2014?

 


Medicare information is available through many resources 
April 1, 2014


Q: Where can I get help with my Medicare decisions? I’m approaching 65, and could use some help sorting through the different Medicare plan options that are available to me.


A:
The options and choices available to Medicare beneficiaries today can be overwhelming. In addition to original Medicare (Part A and B) that has been around for 49 years, you also have the option of enrolling in a Part D prescription drug plan, and a supplemental (Medigap) policy – both of which are sold by private insurance companies. Or, a Medicare Advantage plan which covers health care, prescription drugs and extra services all in one. These plans, which are also sold by private insurers, are generally available through HMOs and PPOs.

To help you figure out the Medicare plans for you, there are a variety of services and tools available today depending on how much help you need. Here are several to get you started.


Free resources

A good starting point to get familiar with Medicare is the “Medicare & You” 2014 handbook that overviews the program and your options. You can read it online at medicare.gov/pubs/pdf/1005 0.pdf, or you should receive a free copy in the mail one month before your 65th birthday.

The Medicare website also offers a free “plan finder” tool at medicare.gov/find-aplan that can help you find and compare health plans, supplemental policies and prescription drug plans in your area. Or, if you don’t have Internet access, or don’t feel confident in working through the information on your own, you can also call Medicare at 800-633-4227 and a customer service representative will do the work for you over the phone.

Other free resources that can help include www.planprescriber.com or www.ehealthmedicare.com, two websites developed by eHealth Insurance that will compare Part D, Advantage and supplemental plans in your area and connect you to a licensed insurance agent.

In addition, the Medicare Rights Center (www.medicarerights.org) staffs a hotline at 800-333-4114 to help answer your Medicare questions.

And your state health insurance assistance program provides free Medicare counseling in person or over the phone. To find a local SHIP counselor see www.shiptalk.org, or call the Eldercare Locator at 800-677-1116.

And, for tips on choosing a top Medicare Advantage plan, see the HealthMetrix Research Cost Share Report at www.medicarenewswatch.com. This resource lists the best Advantage plans by area based on your health status.


Fee-based services

If the free services don’t cut the mustard and you need some additional help in making your Medicare decisions, there are a handful of fee-based companies that are very helpful.

One of the best is Allsup Inc. (ama.allsup.com, 866-521-7655), which offers a Medicare adviser service that takes your personal information online or over the phone, such as the prescription drugs you take and the doctors you use, and provides you customized advice on the best Medicare plans that match your needs and budget. They’ll even help you enroll in the plan(s) you select. Fees for their services range between $200 and $495 depending on how much help you need.

Another option is Healthcare Navigation (www.healthcarenavigation.com, 877-811-8211), which charges $750 for a 90minute comprehensive Medicare consultation.


Commission-based

Another way to get help with your Medicare enrollment is to consult an independent insurance agent. Agents typically get paid a commission to sell you a policy, although they offer plans from a number of providers.

The Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America have a directory on their website (see independentagent.com/contactus) that lets you search for agents in your area. But keep in mind that agents typically specialize in the Medicare plans they represent, rather than all the plans in your market.

NEXT TUESDAY: Personal sound amplification products can help seniors hear better.


 

Health strategies can reduce risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease 
March 18, 2014


Q: Are there any proven strategies to preventing dementia? My 80-year-old mother has Alzheimer’s, which has me wondering if there is anything I can do to protect myself.


A:
While there’s currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, new research indicates that there are a number of healthy lifestyle strategies that can help most people reduce the risk of getting it.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the key factors that increase the risk of getting Alzheimer’s are advanced age, family history and heredity, but research shows that our general health plays a factor too.

While we can’t do much about our age, family or genes, we do have control over how we treat our body and brain.

Some medical experts even estimate that by following these healthy tips now in middle age, you can actually reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s by as much as 50 percent, or at least delay its onset by a few years. Here are the recommended strategies.


Manage health problems: Studies have consistently shown that Alzheimer’s disease is closely related to conditions, like diabetes and heart disease. So, if you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes you need to treat them with lifestyle changes and medication (if necessary) and get them under control.

Left untreated, these diseases over time will cause damage to the vessels that feed blood to the brain, making them more vulnerable to damage, and increasing your risk of dementia.


Exercise: Aerobic exercise increases blood flow to all parts of your body, including your brain, to keep the brain cells well nourished. So choose an aerobic activity you enjoy like walking, cycling, dancing, swimming, etc., that elevates your heart rate and do it for at least 30 to 40 minutes three times a week.


Eat healthy: A heart-healthy diet, like the Mediterranean diet, will also help protect the brain.

A Mediterranean diet includes relatively little red meat and emphasizes whole grains, fruits and vegetables, fish and shellfish, and nuts, olive oil and other healthy fats. Also keep processed foods and sweets to a minimum.


Sleep well:
Quality, restful sleep contributes to brain health too. Typically, adults should get between seven and nine hours of sleep daily. If you have persistent problems sleeping, you need to identify and address the problem. Medications, late-night exercise and alcohol can interfere with sleep quality and length, as can arthritis pain, sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome.

If you need help, make an appointment with a sleep specialist (see sleepeducation.com) who will probably recommend an overnight diagnostic sleep test.


Challenge your brain:

Research shows that mind challenging activities can help improve memory, slow age-related mental decline and even build a stronger brain.

But, be aware that mind challenging activities consist of things you aren’t accustomed to doing. In other words, crossword puzzles aren’t enough to challenge your brain, if you’re already a regular puzzle doer. Instead, you need to pick up a new skill like learning to dance, play a musical instrument, study a new language or do math problems – something that’s challenging and a little outside your comfort zone.

Brain-training websites like Lumosity.com and BrainHQ.com are excellent mind-exercising tools because they continually adapt to your skill level to keep you challenged.

Socializing and interacting with other people is another important way to stimulate the brain. So make a point to reach out and stay connected to friends, family and neighbors. Join a club, take a class or even volunteer – anything that enhances your social life.


Reduce stress: Some stress is good for the brain, but too much can be toxic.

There’s growing evidence that things like mindfulness meditation, yoga and tai chi are all good ways to help reduce stress.

For more tips, call the National Institute on Aging at 800-222-2225 and order a free copy of their booklet “Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease: What Do We Know?”



Automobile aids can help elderly drivers keep driving 
March 11, 2014


Q: Can you recommend any products that can help older drivers with their vehicles? My 84-year-old mother is still a pretty good driver, but she has arthritis, which limits her range of motion and hinders her driving.


A:
To help keep older drivers safe and extend their driving years, there are a number of affordable products you can purchase today that can easily be added to your mom’s vehicle to help with many different needs. Here are several to consider.


Entry and exit

If your mom’s limited range of motion is hampering her ability to get into and out of her vehicle, consider these products: Standers metro car handle: This is a small portable support handle that inserts into the U-shaped striker plate on the door frame that helps with getting out of a car.

Car caddie: This is a nylon strap handle that hooks around the top of the door window frame for entry and exiting help.

Swivel seat cushion: A round portable cushion that turns 360 degrees to help drivers and passengers rotate their body into and out of their vehicle.

Vision helpers

If your mom has a difficult time looking over her shoulder to backup or merge into traffic, or struggles with sensitivity to glare, these products can help.

Allview mirror: This is an oversized rear view mirror that attaches to the existing rearview mirror to widen her rear visibility and eliminate blind spots so your mom can see traffic without significant neck or body rotation. It also helps during parking.

Blind spot mirrors:

These are small convex mirrors that stick to the corner of the side view mirrors to improve side and rear vision.

Backup camera: To eliminate blind spots and avoid turning around when backing up, this device (which costs around $100) comes with a wireless night vision camera that attaches to the license plate and a small monitor that mounts to the dash or windshield.

Sun zapper glare shield:


This plastic tinted visor clips on to the existing sun visor to remove sun glare without obstructing vision.

It also has a special sliding shield that lets you block extra bright glare spots.

Arthritic hands

If your mom’s arthritis makes turning the ignition key, twisting open the gas cap, or gripping the steering wheel difficult and painful, consider these devices: Key turner: This is a small plastic handle that attaches to the car keys to provide additional leverage making it easier to turn the key in the ignition or door.

Gas cap removal tool:

To help at the pump this long-handled device works like a wrench to make loosening and tightening the gas cap much easier and it fits most gas caps.

Steering wheel cover:
It fits over the steering wheel to make it larger in size and easier to grip.

If your mom has shrunk a little over the years to the point she needs help seeing over the steering wheel or reaching the pedals, consider a “wedge seat cushion,” which is an orthopedic cushion that supports the back and elevates her a few inches. Or, “foot pedal extensions,” (see www.pedalextenders.net, drive-master.com or summiteasy.com) that allow her to reach the pedals while keeping her 10 to 12 inches from the steering wheel.

Seat belt aids

The easy reach seat belt handle is a six-inch rubber extension handle that attaches to the seat belt strap to make it easier to reach for seniors with mobility loss. And a “seat belt shoulder pad” that fits around the shoulder strap protects the neck and shoulder from rubbing and chafing.

Where to buy


All of these items (except the pedal extensions and backup camera) cost under $50, and can be found online at amazon.com. Type the product name in the search bar to get a variety of options.



Seniors can protect themselves from annoying robocall scams
March 4, 2014


Q: Is there anything that can be done to stop the annoying robocalls my husband and I keep getting? It seems like we get two or three a day offering lower credit card interest rates, medical alert devices, home alarm systems and more.

What can you recommend?


A:
There’s been a huge spike in robocall scams in the U.S. over the past few years. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission gets more then 200,000 complaints every month about this widespread problem.

Here’s what you should know, along with some tips that can help you protect yourself.


Robocall scams


Whenever you answer the phone and hear a recorded message instead of a live person, it’s a robocall.

You’ve probably gotten robocalls about candidates running for office, or charities asking for donations.

These robocalls are legal and allowed. But if the recording is a sales message and you haven’t given your written permission to get calls from the company on the other end, the call is illegal. In addition to the phone calls being illegal, their pitch most likely is a scam.

Some common robocall scams that are making the rounds these days are offering lower credit card interest rates, mortgage relief, free vacations, medical alert devices or home security systems, or they falsely notify you about changes in your health benefits or bank account. But be aware that new scams are constantly evolving, and they all have only one goal in mind – to get your personal and financial information.

The reason for the spike in robocalls is technology.

Fraudulent robocallers are using autodialers that can send out thousands of phone calls every minute for an incredibly low cost, and are very difficult to trace. When these kinds of calls come in, your caller ID usually displays “spoofed” (fake) numbers, or just says “unknown.”


Protect yourself


Your first step to limiting at least some unwanted calls is to make sure your phone number is registered with the National Do Not Call Registry (see donotcall. gov or call 888-3821222). This, however, will not stop telemarketing scams or illegal robocalls.

Another tip, if you have a caller ID, is to simply not answer the phone unless you recognize the number.

But if you do answer and it’s a robocall, you should just hang up the phone.

Don’t press 1 to speak to a live operator and don’t press any other number to complain about the call or get your number off the list. If you respond by pressing any number, you’re signaling that the autodialer has reached a live number and will probably lead to more robocalls.

You should also consider contacting your phone provider to ask them to block the number, and whether they charge for that service. But keep in mind that telemarketers change caller ID information easily and often, so it might not be worth paying a fee to block a number that will change.

Another call-blocking option you should check into is Nomorobo. This is a free new service and works only for people who have an Internet-based VoIP phone service. Anyone with phone service from Comcast and Time Warner Cable can use it too. Nomorobo uses a “simultaneous ring” service that detects and blocks robocalls on a black list of known offender numbers. It isn’t 100 percent foolproof, but it is an extra layer of protection. To sign up, or see if Nomorobo works with your phone service provider, visit Nomorobo.com.

It’s also important that you report illegal robocalls you receive to the FTC at ftccomplaintassistant.gov or call 888-382-1222.


NEXT TUESDAY: Automobile aids that can help elderly drivers.


 


Resources are available for caregivers to ease with load 
Feb. 25, 2014

Q: What resources do you recommend that offer help to caregivers? I’ve been taking care of my 82-year-old mother, and it’s wearing me to a frazzle.


A:
Taking care of an elder loved one over a period of time can be incredibly taxing, both physically and mentally. Fortunately, there are a number of tips and services you can turn to that can help lighten the load. Here are several to consider.


Assemble a care team: A good first step is to put together a network of people (family, friends and even neighbors) that you can call on to help out when you can’t be there or need a break.

Tap local services: Most communities offer a range of free or subsidized services that help seniors and caregivers by providing things like home-delivered meals, transportation, senior companion services and more. Also, look into respite services (see respitelocator.org) that can provide short-term care to your mom so you can take some time off. Your Area Agency on Aging (call 800-677-1116 for contact information) can refer you to services available in your community.

Use financial aids: If you’re handling your mom’s financial chores, make things easier by arranging direct deposit for her income sources, and set up automatic payments for her utilities and other routine bills.

If you need help, hire a professional daily money manager (aadmm.com, 877-326-5991) who can come in once or twice a month to pay bills, make deposits, decipher health insurance statements and balance her checkbook. They charge $25 to $100 per hour. Or, if your mom is low-income, a similar service is offered by AARP (aarpmmp.org) in select communities for free.

Benefitscheckup.org is another excellent resource you should use to look for financial assistance programs for lower-income seniors.

Get insurance help: If you have questions about Medicare, Medicaid or longterm care, your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) is a great resource that provides free counseling on all these issues. Call 800-633-4227 or visit shiptalk.org to locate a nearby counselor.

You can also get help online at medicare.gov/campaigns/c aregiver/caregiver.html, and through the Medicare Rights Center, which staffs a hotline at 800-333-4114 to help answer questions.

Use technology: If your mom lives alone, consider renting her a medical alert device, which is a small pendent-style “SOS” button that she wears, that would allow her to call for help if she falls. These are available through companies like lifelinesys.com and lifefone.com for about $1 per day. Or, check out home monitoring systems at mylively.com, beclose.com or grandcare.com.

There are also a number of great websites you can draw on for caregiving information and support like aarp.org/caregiving, caregiver.org and caring.com, along with alz.org/care, alzheimers.gov and thiscaringhome. org for caregivers of dementia patients. And, if you’re sharing care responsibilities with others, sites like lotsahelpinghands. com, caresolver.com and caringbridge.org can help you coordinate together.

Hire help: Depending on your mom’s needs and budget, you may want to hire a part-time “home care aide” that can help with things like preparing meals, doing laundry, bathing or dressing, or if she needs health care services, a “home health aid.” Costs can run anywhere from $12 up to $40 per hour depending on where you live and the qualification of the aide. To find someone, ask for referrals through friends, doctor’s offices or hospital discharge planners, or visit medicare.gov/homehealthcompare.

If you need additional guidance, consider hiring a geriatric care manager (caremanager.org) who can help you manage and facilitate your mom’s care. Care managers generally charge between $100 and $200 per hour.

NEXT TUESDAY: How can seniors guard against robocall scams?


 

Filing federal taxes depends on gross income, age  Jan. 28, 2014

Q: What are the IRS income tax filing requirements for seniors this tax season? My income dropped way down when I retired last year, so I’m wondering if I need to even file a tax return this year.
 

A: Whether or not you are required to file a federal income tax return this year depends on your gross income, as well as your filing status and age. Your gross income includes all the income you receive that is not exempt from tax, not including Social Security benefits, unless you are married and filing separately.

To get a detailed breakdown on federal filing requirements, along with information on taxable and nontaxable income, call the IRS at 800-829-3676 and ask them to mail you a free copy of the “Tax Guide for Seniors” (publication 554), or see www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p554.pdf.

In the meantime, here’s a rundown of the IRS filing requirements for this tax season. If your gross income from 2013 was lower than the amount listed in your filing status, you probably won’t have to file. But if it’s over, you will.

- Single: $10,000 ($11,500 if you’re 65 or older by Jan. 1, 2014).

- Married filing jointly: $20,000 ($21,200 if you or your spouse is 65 or older; or $22,400 if you’re both over 65).

- Married filing separately: $3,900 at any age.

- Head of household: $12,850 ($14,350 if age 65 or older).

- Qualifying widow(er) with dependent child: $16,100 ($17,300 if age 65 or older).

 

Special requirements

Be aware that there are some special financial situations that require you to file a tax return, even if your gross income falls below the IRS filing requirement. For example, if you had net earnings from self-employment in 2013 of $400 or more, or if you owe any special taxes to the IRS such as alternative minimum tax or IRA tax penalties, you’ll probably need to file. 

To figure this out, the IRS offers a resource on their website called “Do I Need to File a Tax Return?” that asks a series of questions that will help you determine if you’re required to file, or if you should file because you’re due a refund. You can access this page at www.irs.gov/uac/Do-I-Need-to-File-a-Tax-Return%3F, or you can get assistance over the phone by calling the IRS help line at 800-829-1040. You can also get face-to-face help at a Taxpayer Assistance Center. See www.irs.gov/localcontacts or call 800-829-1040 to locate a center near you.

 

Check your state

Even if you’re not required to file a federal tax return this year, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re also excused from filing state income taxes. Check with your state tax agency before concluding that you’re entirely in the clear. For links to state and local tax agencies see www.taxadmin.org - click on “State Agencies/Links” on the menu bar.

 

Tax prep assistance

If you find that you do need to file a tax return this year, you can get help through the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (or TCE) program. Sponsored by the IRS, TEC provides free tax preparation and counseling to middle and low-income taxpayers, age 60 and older. Call 800-906-9887 to locate a service near you.

Also check with AARP, a participant in the TCE program that provides free tax preparation at more than 5,000 sites nationwide. To locate an AARP Tax-Aid site call 888-227-7669 or visit www.aarp.org/findtaxhelp.

You don’t have to be an AARP member to use this service.

NEXT TUESDAY: What resources are available to help caregivers?


 

How do you know if you have prediabetes? 
Feb. 11, 2014




Q: My 62-year-old sister was recently diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and was surprised when the doctor told her that she’s probably had it or prediabetes for many years. My question is what determines prediabetes and how can you know if you have it?



A: Underlying today’s growing epidemic of Type 2 diabetes is a much larger epidemic called prediabetes, which is when the blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be called diabetes.

The National Institutes of Health estimates that as many as 79 million Americans today have prediabetes. Left untreated, it almost always turns into Type 2 diabetes within 10 years. And, if you have prediabetes, the longterm damage it can cause – especially to your heart and circulatory system – may already be starting.

But the good news is that prediabetes doesn’t mean that you’re destined for full-blown diabetes.

Prediabetes can actually be reversed, and diabetes prevented, by making some simple lifestyle changes like losing weight, exercising, eating a healthy diet and cutting back on carbohydrates. Or, if you need more help, oral medications may also be an option.



Get checked?

Because prediabetes typically causes no outward symptoms, most people that have it don’t realize it. The only way to know for sure is to get a blood test.

Everyone age 45 years or older should consider getting tested for prediabetes, especially if you are overweight with a body mass index (BMI) above 25.

See cdc.gov/bmi to calculate your BMI.

If you are younger than 45 but are overweight, or have high blood pressure, a family history of diabetes, or belong to an ethnic group (Latino, Asian, African or Native American) at high risk for diabetes, you too should get checked.

To help you determine your risk of diabetes, the American Diabetes Association has a quick, online quiz you can take for free at diabetes.org/are-you-at-risk.


Diabetes tests

There are several tests your doctor can give you to determine whether you have prediabetes like the “fasting blood glucose test” or the “oral glucose tolerance test,” that each require an eight-hour fast before you take it. And the “hemoglobin A1C test,” that can be taken any time regardless of when you ate.

If you’re reluctant to visit your doctor to get tested, an alternative is to test yourself. To do that, you’ll need to purchase an A1C home test kit that measures your average blood glucose over the past two to three months.

The ReliOn A1c Test sold at Walmart (or walmart.com) for $9 is a popular option. With this test kit, you provide a small blood sample (about a drop), and send it to the lab in a postage-paid return mailer for analysis. The results are usually sent back within a week.

A1C tests measure the percentage of glucose in the bloodstream. A reading of 5.7 to 6.4 percent is considered prediabetes, while 6.5 percent or greater is diabetes.

If you find that you are prediabetic or diabetic, you need to see your doctor to develop a plan to get it under control.

NEXT TUESDAY: What are the IRS income tax filing requirements for seniors this tax season?