Education is learning what you didn’t even know you didn’t know.
—Daniel J. Boorstin
Diabetes is a chronic disease that requires the person who has it to provide most of his own care. Important parts of that care include following a healthy eating plan, incorporating physical activity into your lifestyle, monitoring your blood glucose on a routine basis, and learning to cope with the ups and downs that often occur. For many people, taking one or more medicines is also necessary to help keep blood glucose levels in target range.
Your diabetes care is a balancing act of all these necessary tasks, and you are the juggler. While it can be challenging, there is help. Diabetes education and training is available that is designed to help you learn more about diabetes and assure that you have up-to-date information, the right tools to manage your disease, and a support system in place for when you need it.
When to learn
Health-care professionals generally agree that for people at high risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, education should start before a person develops the disease. Two common risk factors for Type 2 diabetes are having a close relative with Type 2 diabetes and being overweight; there are other risk factors, as well. The Type 2 Diabetes Risk Test on the Web site of the American Diabetes Association can help a person determine how high his risk is: www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/prevention/diabetes-risk-test.
Research has shown that a healthful diet, increased physical activity, and modest weight loss can help prevent or at least delay the development of Type 2 diabetes in people at high risk for it. Those at risk may be referred to a registered dietitian and/or diabetes educator to begin learning about the steps they can take to help them ward off the disease. It is important that those at risk see their health-care provider at regular intervals to monitor their blood glucose levels and be prepared to take the necessary steps — such as starting on medication — should a diagnosis of diabetes occur.
People who are diagnosed with any type of diabetes should receive some diabetes education and training immediately and should be referred for more in-depth training and follow-up, as well. If the health-care provider who diagnoses your diabetes doesn’t tell you what type of diabetes you have, ask; knowing what type you have is a great place to start learning how to care for it.
The most common types of diabetes are Type 1, Type 2, and gestational diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is often diagnosed during childhood or adolescence and requires insulin as treatment. Type 2 is the most common type of diabetes and may be preceded by a diagnosis of prediabetes, meaning that a person’s blood glucose is higher than normal but not high enough to be called diabetes. Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy and is more common in women who have risk factors for Type 2 diabetes.
Where to learn
The process of becoming educated about your diabetes should occur over time, starting at diagnosis (or before, if you have prediabetes) and continuing as your needs change. If you have not yet taken diabetes education classes or met with a diabetes educator, start by asking your health-care provider what diabetes self-management education or training services he usually refers his patients to. Some health-care providers have diabetes educators available in the same office or in the same building. Health departments and hospitals often offer diabetes education and training classes, and more and more diabetes education programs are being offered at pharmacies these days. In some areas of the United States, the YMCA or YWCA offers health and wellness classes that may include diabetes-specific education and training. A few individuals and institutions have developed online diabetes courses, in which various topics are covered in segments, or chapters, to be followed sequentially or as the student chooses.