Diabetes and Disabilities - The Challenges of Prevention, Diagnosis and Treatment

Diabetes is a chronic health condition that affects how are body turns food into energy.  Type 1 diabetes can be caused when the pancreas does not make insulin or not enough insulin because the immune system attacks and destroys the cells in the pancreas that make insulin. In Type 2 diabetes, which develops slowly, the body doesn’t correctly respond to insulin and may not make enough insulin or the process is not working like it should. Type 2 can be so mild that people aren’t aware they have anything wrong with their body.

“Diabetes can lead to many serious health conditions including blindness, heart disease, kidney disease, nerve damage, oral health issues and infections that can lead to amputations,” Stephanie Singleman, assistant director of nursing, says.

Caring for someone with diabetes involves a multi-disciplinary approach and should include a primary care physician, a podiatrist, dentist, ophthalmologist and a dietician. Blood glucose needs to be monitored daily and insulin may need to be taken.

“Treatment for diabetes requires quite a bit of attention from a professional team and consistent monitoring is essential,” Stephanie says.

Diabetes awareness is especially important for people with disabilities, their families and for the professionals who support them. There are medications that are commonly taken  by people with disabilities that can cause or increase the risk of diabetes.

“Statins used for blood pressure and other cardiovascular drugs, anti-seizure meds, and some psychiatric drugs all can lead to diabetes. It is important to be aware of this with the people we support,” Stephanie says.

Obesity is a common cause for diabetes and people with disabilities often struggle with this condition. Lack of exercise, a family history and being over 45 years old, all can contribute to developing Type 2 diabetes.

“Fortunately, when it comes to Type 2 Diabetes, there are things an individual can do to prevent, reduce or reverse the effects of it,” Shuli Shechter, dietician, says. “It takes some effort and attention but it is well worth it for the individual.”

The challenge is working with an individual’s unique personality. It is not uncommon for people with disabilities to have poor impulse control when it comes to food and many people lack interest in exercise or physical activity. These are the variable that can put them at serious risks.

“It is important to work with people and their unique characteristics. It can mean basic education and diagrams that shows things like a healthy plate. It can mean making physical activity fun like mall walking or bowling. It can also mean something as simple as parking farther away from buildings to encourage walking,” Shuli says.

Shuli also points out that in a healthy diet there are no forbidden foods. When information like this is shared, it can make all the difference.

“There are some misconceptions about a healthy diet for a person with diabetes. People are surprised to hear that any food can be included in moderation and sugar is not poison. The key is to have a balanced diet,” Shuli says.

The nursing and dietician team are committed to preventing and treating diabetes at Wildwood with a team comprehensive approach.  Diabetes is a serious disease with significant health consequences.

“We have been working hand-in-hand with the dietitians and teaming up to address diabetes among the people we support. We are taking a holistic approach  that keeps the entire person and their family in mind,” Kari VanDenburgh, director of nursing, says .

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