By: Donna Tomky
When people are diagnosed with diabetes, things can seem pretty overwhelming. In a short time, they have to absorb a daunting amount of information and start making significant decisions about the way they live their lives.
For many people, their diabetes diagnosis is the first time they’ve heard words like hypoglycemia, neuropathy, and microalbuminuria-or even blood glucose. Despite their unfamiliarity with such terms, they are expected to quickly grasp the information, change ingrained eating and exercise habits, learn how to monitor blood glucose levels, and remember how and when to take medications.
Yet another concept with which patients may be unfamiliar is the field of diabetes education. Many nurses, dietitians, pharmacists, and others are certified as diabetes educators, with specific training in teaching people how to manage their condition. Diabetes education is a proven, effective way to help people avoid some of the serious complications that may arise.
Diabetes is a complex disease that requires daily self-management. Most of that work takes place outside of the physician’s office-in the daily lives of the patients. So it’s necessary for patients to learn healthy behaviors and make them part of their everyday lifestyle. But how do they do this?
Diabetes educators focus on seven key areas of diabetes self-management, developed by the American Association of Diabetes Educators and called the AADE7 Self-Care BehaviorsTM. It’s important for patients to understand and set goals for improvement in each of the following areas:
Healthy Eating – Learning to make healthy food choices by paying attention to nutritional content and portion sizes
Being Active – Recognizing the importance of physical activity and making a plan to start moving today
Monitoring – Learning to check, record, and understand blood glucose levels and other numbers important to diabetes self-care
Taking Medication – Remembering to take medications as prescribed and understanding how they affect the body and diabetes management
Problem Solving – Gaining skills to identify problems or obstacles to self-care behaviors and learning how to solve them
Reducing Risks – Understanding the potential complications associated with diabetes and taking steps to prevent developing them
Healthy Coping – Developing healthy ways of dealing with challenges and difficult situations related to diabetes
Patients and diabetes educators can work together to create a plan for approaching these self-care behaviors and implementing them in the patient’s life.
For someone who is newly diagnosed, Medicare and most private insurance companies cover 10 hours of diabetes self-management training. Every year after that, patients are entitled to two hours of diabetes self-management training. AADE recommends that patients ask their doctors for a referral to a diabetes educator. Diabetes educators can also be found at www.diabeteseducator.org/find.