We were just sent this advice about raising children with diabetes… It takes a family to raise a diabetic child, as we all know! Do you have anything to add?
Hearing the diagnosis for the first time can be overwhelming and will leave any parent and child with mixed emotions. It’s unfair, it’s exhausting, it’s stressful, it’s scary and it’s tough to manage. Yet there is nothing on earth that any parent could have done better to prevent their child from living with Type 1 diabetes. It is estimated that there are now more than half a million children aged 14 and younger living with Type 1 diabetes, according to the 7th IDF Diabetes Atlas. Raising a diabetic child does have a lot of challenges, though.
Understanding Type 1 diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is a disorder of metabolism caused by the body’s immune system which attacks the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. “Children are not born with it, rather it develops over time,” explains Dr Ntsiki Molefe-Osman, Diabetes Medical Advisor at Lilly South Africa. “There is usually a genetic predisposition, though. In children, Type 1 diabetes presents commonly at around 14 years of age and younger. This means that Type 1 diabetes is a lifelong condition, it is serious, and managing it is vital. Poor control of the condition today will have lifelong repercussions. When a child is diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, so is the entire family who all need to adapt to a new lifestyle.”
The importance of blood sugar control
“Good blood sugar control is vital,” says Dr Ntsiki Molefe-Osman. “Careful daily management of blood sugar and sustaining tight glucose control as close to normal levels as possible is essential.”
“Diabetes is a progressive disease, which left unchecked will cause organ damage. This has significant health repercussions for later on in life… From kidney failure, heart failure, blindness, nerve damage (diabetic neuropathy) and as a result loss of limbs. What you do for your diabetic child today and the responsibilities you teach your teen in managing Type 1 diabetes, will influence the quality of life they can expect to live later in life,” explains Dr Molefe-Osman.
Why do Type 1 diabetics need insulin?
People living with Type 1 diabetes do not produce any insulin at all, so it needs to be replaced with insulin injections. Insulin moves blood sugar into body tissues where it is used for energy. When there is no insulin, sugar builds up in the bloodstream. This is commonly referred to as high blood sugar, or hyperglycaemia – it is dangerous and has many side effects. Fortunately when the blood sugar is stabilised with insulin treatment, these symptoms go away.
Raising a diabetic child
While a diabetes diagnosis for your child may come as a shock and will mean that lifestyle adjustments will have to be made, it is important to remember that with consistent control and the support of a healthcare provider, people living with Type 1 diabetes can live full, active lives.
Family support is vital
Managing Type 1 diabetes in your child takes a lot of courage and determination. Imagine the mountain that a child faces knowing that injections will be part of their daily routine. They may also worry that their condition will preclude them from enjoying all the things that other children get to experience, or lead to them being treated as ‘different’ in their school and peer environment.
It all comes down to how you work together as family to support and guide your child. If they can see their daily treatment regime as a positive step towards a healthy and normal life, rather than as a punishment or burden, it will serve them for life. It is important to help your child believe wholeheartedly that with the right control and responsible approach, they can do whatever they want to do.
Managing chronic illness
“Coping with and learning to manage a chronic illness like diabetes is a big job for a child or teen. It may also cause emotional and behavioral challenges and talking to a diabetes educator or psychologist can help immensely. It’s also important that family, friends, teachers and other people in your child’s network know of and understand the condition so they are alert to any symptoms or signs that their blood sugar is out of control and what to do to help them in an emergency situation,” adds Dr. Molefe-Osman.
It takes a huge amount of discipline from the parent and child to manage the demanding diet, lifestyle and treatment regimen. It’s essential to establish a routine that works for everyone. How? Establishing good habits early, providing a support structure and ensuring that your child understands why good control is important. It’s the difference between your child managing their diabetes, or diabetes managing them,” she concludes.
- The 7th Edition of the International Diabetes Federation Atlas, World Health Organisation (WHO)
- http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs310/en/), Statistics SA