Diabetes Friends

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A new study finds that having a regular partner to discuss diabetes issues with reduced average A1C by 2.8%! Not many drugs could do that. I wonder if you have such a diabetes partner.

This study was done in rural Uganda, so it might not apply to most Diabetes Self-Management readers. But then again, it might, because people have a lot in common, don’t we?

Published in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, the study followed 46 people with Type 2 diabetes, who started with an average A1C of 11.1%. Participants got a standard five-hour diabetes education class covering healthful eating, physical activity, medication use, monitoring blood sugars, and other self-management issues.

They also got one hour on communication skills such as active listening, and then were assigned a partner matched for age and gender. They were instructed to contact their partner at least once a week by phone or in person for at least four months.

According to an article on Diabetes in Control called “Peer Support and Positive Outcomes in Diabetes,” “These contacts were designed as a support system to assist with daily management, provide social and emotional support, and encourage appropriate contact with health care providers when necessary.”

At the end of four months, and continuing for 18 months of follow-up, A1C came down an average of 2.8% and blood pressure came down an average of 9 points. Eighty percent of the study participants reported they were happy with the program.

They saw their doctors more regularly. Many contacted their partners more than required and some partners may have become friends as a result of the program.

I find this study exciting in several ways. When I teach self-management to nurses, doctors, or educators, I always recommend a “buddy system” like this one. It’s good to see experimental data that confirms that buddy systems work.

I was surprised to find out that most of the participants had cell phones. I always think of places like rural Uganda as being too poor for modern conveniences, but apparently modern technology is becoming more available all over the world. I hope that being able to communicate more easily leads to other benefits for people.

But the success of diabetes partners in Uganda brings up a big question for me. Do you have a diabetes partner? Do you have someone you can discuss diabetes issues with? Except for some people who just don’t like socializing, I think having such a partner can make a big improvement in our lives.

I think many of us use our spouses or significant others as sounding boards, but there are limits to that. Unless your partner has diabetes too, he or she cannot really understand what it’s like for you. And we don’t want the pressure of diabetes to sabotage other areas of the relationship, so many of us tend to hide things from partners. A diabetes buddy can take some of that pressure off.

Support groups are good, too, but they usually meet only once a month. And because they are groups, you might not form the kind of personal connection you could have with a diabetes partner. Online groups also have benefits, but not the close support you can find from one person.

If you have a diabetes partner, good for you. If you don’t have one, how can you find one? A few possibilities: You could ask your doctor or diabetes educator to introduce you to a possible match. You could go to a support group and put the word out. See if anybody bites. You could ask or advertise around your church or community center.

If you don’t want to put your name out there so openly, you could post a sign or an ad that doesn’t include your name.

When you think of all the information you could share with a diabetes partner, how could it not be helpful? Where to find good shoes or healthy food, tips on working with doctors and finding a good doctor, places to exercise or find an exercise partner, the list is long.

The emotional support might be even more valuable. Someone to talk with who actually understands is a rare and valuable thing. If you have someone like that, let us know how you found him and how it’s going. If you don’t, are you interested in finding one, and how will you go about it?

The first Reversing Diabetes World Summit is on the web at this site. It’s free to register. The summit started on May 5 and runs through May 16. Each day’s speakers’ web talks will be available for 24 hours, starting at 10 AM on the day they speak.

I’m scheduled to speak on May 15. Check me out along with the other speakers, including Mark Hyman, MD, Jenny Ruhl of Blood Sugar 101, sex expert Debra Laino, DHS, MEd, and many others you can see on this schedule.

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