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Pat Piper has made a career learning something new. As a journalist in the news business, “something new” occurs every hour so he’s becoming an expert at understanding stuff he never thought about. Learning became a common word in “Future Talk: Conversations About Tomorrow” (Warner Books), the popular book he ghostwrote with Larry King as […]

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Tag: Olympia Dukakis

Olympia Dukakis and Her Husband Tackle Type 2 Diabetes Together

By on May 3, 2013 in Writing with No Comments

Three days after a routine physical last November, 84-year-old Louis Zorich was called by his doctor and told that he had type 2 diabetes. The first words out of the seasoned actor’s mouth were “There’s been a mistake.” Louis, who’s been married to Academy Award-winning actress Olympia Dukakis for 47 years, proceeded to explain (incorrectly) to his doctor, “Men don’t get diabetes. My three brothers don’t have it, but my mother had it….It may be genetic, but only the female side of my family can have diabetes.”

Olympia Dukakis

Olympia Dukakis

Louis’ doctor patiently explained that diabetes affects both men and women, that it does have a genetic component, and that he was writing Louis a prescription for a pair of standard oral type 2 medications.

When Louis gave the news to Olympia, she immediately thought of its possible genetic consequences for their three children. “My first reaction, when Louis told me, was that we needed to let our children know,” she told Diabetes Health. “It’s important because it’s a ‘preview of coming attractions,’ and they may develop diabetes later in life. Age 65 to 70 seems to be when it hits a lot of people.”

Recent studies confirm Olympia’s estimate: 18.4 percent of people age 65 and older are diagnosed with diabetes. But even more telling is another set of numbers: Seven out of ten people 65 and older have diabetes or prediabetes (glucose levels that are too high, but not high enough to diagnose type 2), but half of them don’t know it. This means that their bodies are already being stressed and possibly damaged as a result of high blood sugar.

After their children were made aware of the diagnosis, Olympia and Louis kept to their busy schedules. He began rehearsals for the Classic Stage Company’s off-Broadway production of Uncle Vanya, and she continued shooting scenes for an upcoming film and traveling to support causes or receive awards. But they both thought about the fact that if Louis have not been screened during a routine doctor visit, they would never have known about his diabetes.

“I was astounded by the fact that so many people our age aren’t aware that they can be screened for diabetes at no cost, through Medicare,” Olympia recalls, “Louis and I weren’t.” Since 2005, Medicare has provided free screening for anyone age 65 and older who has a diabetic risk factor (obesity, overweight, a family history of diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or a history of gestational diabetes). Unfortunately, only 10 percent of seniors take advantage of the free screening. Working with Novo Nordisk, both Louis and Olympia have taken leading roles in getting the word out to seniors about asking for a glucose screening. In fact, there’s a website that puts it all in three words: askscreenknow.com.

Looking back, Olympia recalls that her husband’s behavior had changed before his diagnosis. Although she hadn’t been concerned at the time, in retrospect she quickly connected the dots and realized that he hadn’t been the Louis she knew. “I can tell by looking at him,” she notes. “Now he is much more available in terms of what’s really happening. Before, I started to hear him say that he didn’t want to go to such-and-such a place or that he was too tired. I asked him about it [at the time], and we both agreed that it was probably the result of other medications he was taking. This has all changed during the past seven months.”

Read more of Pat’s story at DiabetesHealth.com.

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