If You Have Diabetes, Education is Essential for Optimal Health

Posted: November 28, 2017

This article appeared in the Kentucky Herald-Leader on November 22, 2017.

Do you have diabetes.

Diabetes is one of the most common chronic conditions, affecting more than 30 million people in the United States. About 5 percent of people with diabetes have type 1. Type 2 is more common and occurs in about 95 percent of those with diabetes. If you are a woman with a history of gestational diabetes during pregnancy, your risk of developing type 2 as you age is 40 percent to 60 percent, and the risk increases to 50 percent to 75 percent if you are obese.

Pre-diabetes often occurs before you develop type 2 diabetes. Pre-diabetes is when blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough for a diabetes diagnosis. Experts estimate that about 84 million people 18 or older have pre-diabetes.

Self-management means actively managing your illness. Regardless of the type of diabetes you have, you will self-manage about 95 percent of your care. Education and support from diabetes educators is essential to develop skills and confidence to manage your diabetes. Not only should you be well-educated about your diabetes when you are diagnosed, you should be educated yearly, specific to your treatment goals and to help prevent complications.

When challenges to your usual level of activity, ability to function, health beliefs, and-or well-being occur, diabetes self-management education and support can help you adapt. Also, whenever factors complicate self-management, such as other health problems, aging or pregnancy, additional diabetes education is usually necessary.

Do research to find services available for your diabetes self-management education. Check to see whether the services are accredited by the American Association of Diabetes Educators or recognized by the American Diabetes Association. If you have pre-diabetes, look for a diabetes prevention program that has achieved Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recognition.

Lifelong skills and decision-making support are necessary to self-manage diabetes. The diabetes educators group has developed seven key skills to focus on for optimal diabetes health: healthful eating, being active, monitoring, taking medication, problem-solving, reducing risks and healthy coping. A diabetes prevention program will help you develop necessary lifestyle skills to prevent or delay type 2 diabetes.

In addition to your diabetes care team, ideally, you will have diabetes support from family and friends. Lay health and community health workers, who are not diabetes educators, might also help reinfoce elements of your treatment plan and offer emotional support. Your support system should encourage routine follow-up with your diabetes care team and consultation with the team should a question or need arise.

If you have diabetes, get a referral for diabetes self-management education. Likewise, if you have pre-diabetes, ask your health care provider for a referral to a DPP. Take charge, be proactive and seek diabetes education-related services to optimize your diabetes health.

Laura Hieronymus is the associate director for education & quality services at the University of Kentucky HealthCare Barnstable Brown Diabetes Center.