Does diabetes have a positive side? We asked Dr Asma Deeb, Paediatric Endocrinologist and author of the report Diabetes Positive Living: Highlights from practice in the Gulf region. Dr. Deeb examined families with children who were diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, their coping mechanisms, lifestyle changes and the impact of diabetes on their lives.
Type 1 Diabetes is such a complex condition, and managing it can be challenging. Is there really a positive side of diabetes?
Although the positive side of diabetes may not be obvious at first, there are many aspects of Type 1 Diabetes that can have a positive impact on children and families.
Most families are devastated by a diabetes diagnosis. Why is this?
The behavior of children and young people with diabetes varies according to lifestyle, dietary habits and psychology.
Diagnosing a child with diabetes has a long-term effect on the child and the family as a whole. Parents (mainly mothers) undergo stages of shock, anger, sadness and even depression.
Coping strategies that families adopt vary; some families are able to cope and adapt quicker than others.
Children react differently to the diagnosis and the management too. Some children refuse injections and testing, while others do not mind them.
Tell us what, in your opinion, is the positive side of diabetes for children and families.
Families with children with diabetes are counseled on the importance of diet and exercise on diabetes management. As time goes on, families come to know the importance of a healthy lifestyle on diabetes management.
1. Learning to eat healthy food.
A healthy diet is difficult to stick to in the current era of “fast food”. However, after a child’s diabetes diagnosis, many families adopt a healthier lifestyle for the whole family.
Families become more educated about food contents and food groups. Some acquire the good habit of looking at food labels when shopping and choosing the healthiest option to buy.
2. Becoming conscious of eating habits.
Although modern insulin devices allow flexibility in timings of injections, people with diabetes become more alert to their meals and snack timings.
Knowing that many CHO-containing snacks require additional insulin injections makes people think twice about frequent snacking and encourages them to eat only if they are hungry.
In addition, it prompts people to choose healthier snack and meal options.
3. Doing more exercise.
After a diagnosis of diabetes, proper counseling by an expert multidisciplinary team encourages families to include exercise in their daily routine.
Simple advice, like taking the stairs instead of lifts or walking to the local market store instead of driving, make people realize that exercise can fit into their normal life and does not always mean heavy training in a professional gym.
4. Using diabetes technology.
A positive side of diabetes is that the excellent advances in the field of diabetes technology can lead to more engagement with personal health and wellness.
Technology has revolutionized diabetes management, both in terms of diagnosis and treatment of diabetes.
Children with diabetes are provided with various glucose monitoring devices which vary in size, shape and function.These devices operate on various software with powerful visual impact. When downloaded at home or in clinic, graphs and trends of blood glucose can be displayed in a simple yet informative way.
Children and young people are technology-oriented and get engaged more easily with visual aids. Having these facilities encourages them to look after their diabetes.
The use of the insulin pump is another face of technology in diabetes treatment. These smart devices enable children with diabetes to have a more flexible daily routine and improve their quality of life. As with the glucose measuring machines, they come with powerful software which on downloading transform data into graphs and charts that enable easier interpretation and interaction.
Insulin pump therapy and multiple daily injections of insulin are proven to be the better choice of managing Type 1 Diabetes. Both modalities of treatment require knowledge of carbohydrate content of food for proper insulin dose matching. This encourages people to pay particular attention to what they eat.
5. Learning the value of money.
Caring for a child with diabetes can be an economic burden on parents. Children and families with no or low insurance cover tend to highly value the equipment and diabetes accessories provided.
These children learn to look after their possessions well, particularly when they believe in its importance.
One common example is children offered expensive insulin pumps from charities or donations. They cherish these instruments and look after them well which translates to a general value of money.
Can a child’s diabetes diagnosis have a positive impact on parents?
There is no experience better than one’s own. No matter how experienced doctors and nurses become in the field of diabetes, the experience of parents is more powerful and unique.
A diabetes diagnosis on a child can change a parent’s life for the better.
There are many success stories around the world of parents who became famous advocates for diabetes. Many parents of children with diabetes choose a career in diabetes support and advocacy, and go on to help hundreds of children and families. Their personal experience adds a special spark to their work because of their own personal experience.
Some mothers of children diagnosed with diabetes are illiterate. Through the diabetes diagnosis, many of these mothers acquire an immense dedication to learn to read. Some mothers receive special tuition to learn how to read numbers to be able to read their child’s blood sugar levels.
Parents of children with diabetes contribute positively to research and development.
Parents of children with diabetes become eager to study and know more about diabetes. Their big dream (which is shared by healthcare professionals) is to find a cure for diabetes. This strong desire turns them into “researchers”.
Many parents, and sometimes older children with diabetes, start to regularly follow and search various sources of knowledge and news about diabetes.
One particular issue of great importance is the willingness of these parents to participate in research projects and clinical trials.
In addition, parents and children are almost always willing to participate in diabetes campaigns, medical conferences, media interviews and workshops.
In your experience, how does diabetes affect the relationship between families and medical professionals?
Physicians dealing with children with diabetes share the feeling that these children are special.
The condition has a power to connect families and healthcare professionals. It strengthens the relationship between both parties as it involves intimate involvement in a child’s life and never stops at just prescribing medicine.
Clinic visits for diabetes follow-up are more than just a medical appointment. There is always a mix of medicine and life in the discussion which is more like a chat than a formal doctor-patient consultation. Allocating clinic time is crucial for healthcare professionals to build up this healthy relationship with parents and children and is a major factor in the satisfaction of people receiving help to manage their diabetes.
What are your final thoughts on the positive side of diabetes?
Diabetes is a complex disease. It is strongly connected to many vital aspects of one’s life.
Diabetes management requires not only a multidisciplinary team of professionals but a family and school environment equipped with all the requirements of its demanding management.
Some children and families are an inspiration. Many of them make real role models of how to deal with the burden and the challenges of life.
Diabetes affects the whole family. Affected children must be observed and attended to day and night. They need to consider it during eating, exercising and in almost all of their day-to-day life.
It is a difficult condition to live with but can be a source of power to make children grow into wise and flourishing adults, and can bring families together.
Do you think there is a positive side of diabetes? What unexpected blessings have shown up in your life since you were touched by diabetes?
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I am convinced that having diabetes made me a more serious, humble and in the long run far better person.
It definitely put a lot in perspective for me, and has helped me focus on what really matters. I have also met the most amazing people because of it!