Teenagers benefit from regular help managing their diabetes, research shows

by Sarita Sheth on September 24, 2012

12 to 15 year olds benefited from a two year programme

Regular meetings with health advisors helps teenagers with type 1 diabetes to manage their condition in terms of controlling blood sugar levels, a study has found.

Researchers at the National Institutes of Health in the United States found that 12 to 15 year olds benefited from a two year programme of three to four meetings each year with parents and a health advisor to discuss shared responsibilities, goals and strategies for solving diabetes management problems that arose.

‘Adolescence can be difficult for families even without the complex challenge of taking care of diabetes,’ said lead author Tonja Nansel, of the Prevention Research Branch of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), the institute that conducted the study.

‘Our study found that meeting with a health advisor during regular diabetes clinic visits could help families put together strategies for dealing with diabetes, to better manage the changes that occur as children take on more responsibility for their day to day diabetes care,’ he explained.

Type 1 diabetes develops when the body’s immune system destroys the insulin producing beta cells of the pancreas. Insulin is a hormone that enables cells to use the sugar glucose for energy. Type 1 diabetes usually strikes children and young adults, who need several insulin injections a day or an insulin pump to survive.

People with this type of diabetes must balance the amount of food they consume with their insulin dose, to prevent their blood sugar levels from climbing too high or dropping too low. An extreme drop in blood sugar can be fatal.

Nansel pointed out that many adolescents have difficulty managing their diabetes and hormonal changes may affect insulin levels. On top of this adolescents may find it difficult to adhere to their daily treatment plan.

When caring for their diabetes, adults often follow the patterns they established in adolescence so if they fail to learn how to care for the disease properly during this time, they may develop poor habits that increase the chances for health problems later on, Nansel added.

In the study, the researchers evaluated WE-CAN Manage Diabetes, a two year behavioural intervention program they developed. The study included about 300 preteens and young adolescents with type 1 diabetes and their families. Half the families received the WE-CAN intervention and half received standard care.

Standard care consisted of regular visits with their diabetes care physician. In addition to the physician visits, the WE-CAN programme included meetings in which the health advisor discussed with the family any difficulties they were having with the child’s diabetes management or areas they would like to improve.

The health advisor then helped the families work out a plan for solving the problems. For example, in their sessions with the health advisor, young people with diabetes and their families frequently set goals such as checking blood sugar more often or eating more healthfully.

At each visit, researchers also recorded haemoglobin A1C (HbA1C) measurements, a standard indicator of a person’s long term blood sugar control.

The study concluded that 12 to 15 year olds in the intervention group had markedly better HbA1c levels than those who received standard care. The intervention did not appear to improve blood sugar control among nine to 11 year olds.

‘The approach appears to be better suited for the behavioural issues that the older kids were facing. The findings show us that the children who needed it most are the ones for whom this approach worked,’ said Nansel.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the DiabetesForum.com Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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