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Diabetes in children…teenagers, and the challenges

Reflections about the Disease

Do we sit down and consider those around us and the things they go through? As the month of November rolls around again, let’s reflect on the diabetics amongst us. In this week’s article, my focus is on children…teenagers and the challenges both they and their parents face on this new journey. It’s a discovery, and sometimes an emotional journey, especially for those who may not have had other family members to draw experiences from, or those just thinking “why me I’m so young” or “why my child”?

This disease is no respecter of man, and as I’ve stated on numerous occasions, diabetes is not a life sentence. It certainly is an adjustment, but once understood, adhered to, the process of managing can be pretty normal…almost second nature. Like with everything, it has a lot to do with mind set. In the case of children in particular, they typically tend to draw off of their parents’ strength; so parents, your reaction/approach to dealing with things can greatly contribute to the approach taken by your child.

The Challenges

It can’t be easy for a child with Type 1 diabetes during their school years, especially at the point of initial diagnosis. Imagine birthday parties…cake, ice cream, chocolates, sweets, cookies and soft drinks… These are not easy to resist, even as adults. Not easy physiologically explaining to your friends that you are diabetic and can’t partake like everyone else.

While a teacher is trained to teach, be a mom/dad, a physiologist, the reality is they aren’t trained to be a health provider too. Therefore children with Type 1 diabetes in particular (where an injection has to be taken), is not a role they were trained for. It is difficult for the teacher and child alike to adjust to the changes. Teachers, out of caution, may alienate a child from regular activities due to fear. The same I’m sure occurs in children with other health conditions.

I took this excerpt from a 13 year old girl who was diagnosed at 3 years; she gives an account of life with diabetes:

 I can’t remember much of my first injections because I was so young, but I know that it was very hard-hitting for my family: they describe feeling like they were hit by a ton of bricks. I only remember having the symptoms like drinking a lot and going to the toilet a lot too. That was horrible.

 Over the first 7–8 years my control was very good and my parents were always admired by the doctors for keeping such a good eye on me.

 When I started high school everything started to go downhill. I was at that age (13) where I wanted to go out with my friends and not worry about anything – but with diabetes that is impossible.

 But at school it was the worst: I started missing injections especially my lunchtime ones because I didn’t want to have to pull my skirt and tights down to do my injections in front of everyone. So, I just thought I’d skip dinner to make sure my blood sugars go down. That is not the solution because if you miss a meal your body uses extra fat which contains extra sugar so your blood glucose goes up even more.”

 Making Diabetes your Friend and not Your Foe

Diabetes can feel like it’s your enemy. But the best thing you can do with an enemy is to make it your friend; not your best friend but one that you can get on with, and you won’t let each other down. It can take a long time to fully understand how diabetes works in your body; what you can do to keep it under control, and lead a full, active life; which you can.

Whether you’re on the dance floor until 3am, jogging for two miles for exercise, or playing as a striker for your neighbourhood football team – you are essentially doing the same thing. You sweat, burn calories and use up glucose in your body.

Physical activity is good for everyone, not just people with diabetes. It helps you to feel good, look better, and keep trim. And it can actually be fun. You don’t need special clothes or gear for many types of physical activities. Cycling, walking, swimming, in fact all types of activity, can help you control your diabetes.

Regular physical activity also helps you to:

             -improve muscle tone.

  • -keep your heart in good shape by improving your circulation.
  • -keep your lungs healthy.
  • -feel good.

 Potential Complications

 People living with diabetes may have to deal with short-term or long-term complications as a result of their condition.

Short-term complications include hypoglycaemia diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), and hyperosmolar hyperglycaemic state (HHS).

Long-term complications encompass how diabetes affects your eyes (retinopathy), heart (cardiovascular disease), kidneys (nephropathy), and nerves and feet (neuropathy).

Ensure that you:

  • ·    Keep your blood glucose levels within your target range.
  • ·   Have your feet checked at least once a year.
  • ·    Tell your diabetes healthcare team if you think you’re developing any signs of neuropathy.
  • ·    If you think you’ve lost sensation in your feet, protect them from injury, check them every day, and inform your healthcare team.

You are never too young to develop problems with your feet, or develop neuropathy issues; so monitor and take preventative care.

 Everyone, regardless of their age, has times when they feel like giving up, but most people come through bad patches and get on with their lives again. Just remember, you’re never suffering… you’re just coping! You may not like having diabetes, but if you can deal with it then, you’re stronger than every ‘healthy’ person out there!

 Over the next two Mondays I’ll do further pieces on diabetes and its effects.

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