Sylvia Soicher has lived an active life. The Kendall resident went to Pilates four times a week, painted live models every week at an art studio and was semi-retired from the real estate company she and her husband own.
But last year during a routine checkup, the 75-year-old discovered she had prediabetes. Her blood glucose levels were higher than normal but not yet high enough to be called diabetes. Besides having high cholesterol, which was controlled with medication, Soicher had no other health problems.
Approximately 84 million U.S. adults (more than one out of three) have prediabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ninety percent of those with the condition are unaware they have it. Those with prediabetes have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
Soicher had some of the risk factors for prediabetes: She was older than 45 and she had a family history of diabetes – her grandmother had the condition.
Other risk factors for prediabetes include being overweight or obese; physically active fewer than three times a week; a history of diabetes while pregnant; and being African-American, Hispanic, American Indian, Asian-American or Pacific Islander, groups that are at higher risk for contracting diabetes, according to the CDC. She didn’t have these risk factors.
Soicher was also a Medicare recipient, which made her eligible to participate in Medicare’s Diabetes Prevention Program, which works to prevent people who are prediabetic from developing type 2 diabetes.
The free program consists of a minimum of 16 intensive core sessions over six months of a CDC-approved curriculum. The program works in a classroom-style setting, educating participants in long-term dietary change, increased physical activity and behavior change strategies for weight control. It includes cooking demonstrations, teaching people how to make healthier meals.
After the completing the core sessions, participants attend monthly meetings for follow-up.
She learned that Baptist Health South Florida offered the program at its Kendall location, which was near to her home.
“I believe in prevention, so I went to the program,” she said.
Participants meet with a registered dietitian and a registered nurse certified in diabetes education, plus a psychologist and trainer.
Since she began attending the program in the beginning of the year, Soicher’s A1C levels decreased from 5.9 to 5.2. The A1C test measures your average blood sugar levels over the past two to three months.
An A1C level below 5.7 percent is considered normal; between 5.7 and 6.4 percent is considered prediabetes; and 6.5 percent or higher on two separate tests indicates type 2 diabetes.
“You have to make a commitment,” Soicher said. “It made me more persistent and aware in taking care of myself and putting my health first.”
She began incorporating water aerobics into her exercise regimen, which previously included yoga and Pilates.
She also lost 10 pounds within the first six months of starting the program.
“They teach you how to snack, how to eat protein,” Soicher said. “They follow up with you very closely.”
The support she receives from the group is also important. Nearly 20 people from the program are in a group text on What’s App.
“We give advice to each other,” Soicher said. “We send a text if we find some [new food] at the supermarket. It’s a very cohesive group.”
Soicher also finds inspiration in her 82-year-old husband, who has diabetes.
“He walks every day,” Soicher said. “He’s like the little [Energizer] bunny. He eats very little carbs, no sweets. He’s very disciplined.”
The couple have two adult children and three grandchildren. Besides painting live models at the art studio, she enjoys painting portraits, including of her 7-year-old granddaughter.
“It is a hobby,” Soicher said. “I’ve painted since I was a little girl. It makes me happy.”
She is grateful to the program for giving her the tools to combat her condition.
“I didn’t get diabetes,” Soicher said. “I was very scared because you hear stories like amputations and heart attacks. They call it the silent killer. I didn’t pay much attention before.
“But, when I started going to the group, it made me really aware of what could have happened.”
For more information about Medicare Diabetes Prevention Program at South Florida, please contact (786) 596-3895.