Choosing a senior-friendly blood glucose meter

Published 12:55 pm Friday, April 22, 2011

Dear Savvy Senior,

Can you recommend any tips to help seniors choose a good blood glucose meter? At age 64, I was just diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and my doctor told me I need to keep a close eye on my blood sugar at home.

Retired Diabetic

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Dear Retired,

A blood glucose meter is a vital tool for most diabetics, but with all the models and options available today, selecting one can be a bit confusing. Here are some tips that can help.

Home monitoring

Most seniors that have diabetes need a personal blood glucose meter – a small battery-powered device – to measure their blood sugar. Regular monitoring provides valuable information about how food, medications, exercise, stress and many other factors affect your blood sugar, which, in turn, helps you manage your diabetes.

There are many types of meters available today, from basic models to more-advanced meters with multiple features and options. Choosing the right one for you will depend on your wants and needs, as well as your insurance coverage and budget. Here are several factors to consider.

Costs: Your first step is to check with your insurance provider to see how much they’ll cover for the meter and the strips. The meters themselves don’t cost much, typically between $10 and $85 (you may even be able to get one for free through your doctor or health insurer). But the testing strips are pricy, running between 50 cents and $1 each, which really adds up depending on how often you test. So pay close attention to the cost of the test strips when comparing prices.

Ease of use: Some meters are easier to use than others. Seniors often like larger meters that have bigger controls and use larger strips that are easier to handle. There are also meters that use cartridges of test strips instead of individual strips, and cartridge-loaded lancets, which are very convenient.

Or, if your vision is poor, there are large-display or talking meters that “speak” your results. And some models have a backlight, which is handy for nighttime readings.

Blood sampling: To help reduce the “ouch” factor of testing, many meters today allow you to draw blood from less sensitive areas of the body like the upper arm, forearm, thigh, calf or palm in addition to your fingertip. If you like this option, look for the words “alternate site testing” on the packaging, but be sure you check with your doctor first because readings not taken from the finger may not be as reliable, especially with rapid changes in blood sugar.

Also check the meter box to see how much blood is required for each test. Less (between 0.3 and 1.0 microliters) is better because the lancet won’t poke your skin as deep making it less painful.

Memory and computer capabilities: Most meters have memory so you can store and recall past readings, and some have the capability of averaging your test results for seven, 14 and 30-day time periods, which is also very helpful.

If you test several times a day, get a meter that stores at least 200 to 450 readings. And, if you’re computer savvy, consider a meter that lets you download your readings to your computer. It makes it easier to track and share your results with your doctor.

Speed and coding: Meters will also vary on how long they take to give you your results, ranging from a few seconds up to a minute. Also, be aware that for a meter to produce accurate results, it must be set to recognize a batch code of numbers on each test strip.

Some meters recognize the code automatically, while others need to be coded manually. Get an “auto-code” or “no-code” meter. It eliminates potential errors and ensures accuracy.


Your doctor, diabetes educator and pharmacist are all great resources to help you choose a meter. Also see the Diabetes Forecast article “Blood Glucose Meters – 2010 Consumer Guide” which you can access at

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.