By Leslie Shallcross
Most of us know someone whose life is affected by diabetes. According to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 12.2 percent of U.S. adults aged 18 years or older have diabetes and 23.8 percent of them don’t know it. Among adults over 65 years of age, slightly more than 25 percent have diabetes (this would be around 9,000 Alaska seniors).
An additional one in three American adults (86 million) have a condition called prediabetes and are likely to develop diabetes unless they take steps to prevent it.
Diabetes may lead to well-known complications — cardiovascular disease and strokes, nerve damage, blindness, amputations and kidney damage. Individuals with diabetes can face double the annual medical costs and a 50 percent higher risk of death than someone without diabetes.
Prediabetes carries a similar risk for medical complications. If all of this sounds pretty grim, it is important to know one can live well with diabetes and most can avoid serious complications. If one has prediabetes, lifestyle changes and a small amount of weight loss has been effective in preventing or delaying the onset of diabetes.
In trying to encourage friends and clients, I may have suggested that a diabetes or prediabetes diagnosis shouldn’t be a reason for panic or fear. My words were never intended to minimize the everyday reality of living with these medical conditions. There are emotional effects, such as fear of complications and depression. There are challenges of scheduling, transportation and paying for multiple medical appointments and medications. And, there are the many, now urgent, lifestyle changes to make. Whatever else it may take, successfully dealing with diabetes or prediabetes requires courage, focus, time, willpower and support.
Regular medical appointments will be important for monitoring health. But, the things one does every day will make the most difference in diabetes or prediabetes. For the everyday healthy lifestyle checklist, consider the following: increasing daily physical activity to accumulate 150 minutes per week; adding more healthy food choices like vegetables and fruits and limiting the less healthy ones like chips and ice cream; developing and using skills for dealing with stress; prioritizing sufficient, regular sleep; checking blood sugar levels; if overweight, making a plan for weight loss; and stopping smoking.
One can develop diabetes at any time, although the older we are, the more likely we are to have blood sugar problems. The solution for dealing with diabetes or prediabetes isn’t to stop aging — that would be a sad alternative! Gaining awareness, getting support and education, developing a healthy lifestyle and developing a partnership with medical providers can help prevent or delay complications of diabetes or prediabetes.
A healthy lifestyle “makeover” will take time. It can’t happen overnight. But, setting goals, keeping focused on the changes that need to be made and measuring daily progress will make all the difference in whether one lives life well with diabetes or whether one is able to prevent or delay the onset of diabetes.
In Alaska and Fairbanks, support for making diabetes-healthy lifestyle changes can be found with a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) or a certified diabetes educator (CDE). For individuals with diabetes, a medical provider can provide a referral to either of these types of providers for education. Many communities, including Fairbanks, also have diabetes support groups for diabetes education. The Cooperative Extension Service in Fairbanks offers two helpful programs — the six-week Diabetes Self-Management Program and the four-session Dining with Diabetes program.
For individuals with prediabetes, the Tanana District Cooperative Extension provides a 12-month program of group education and support for lifestyle change and weight loss, the National Diabetes Prevention Program. Participation in this program has been shown to be effective in delaying or preventing the onset of diabetes.
This program is available in several other communities in Alaska, including Anchorage, Seward and Juneau. On the Kenai Peninsula, the National Diabetes Prevention Program is available as a telephone-delivered program for free through a grant from the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors and the Alaska Diabetes Prevention and Control Program. The State of Alaska also has a free online prediabetes program called TurnAround Health. It can be found at the following website: http://bit.ly/2Do2Afq.
For more information about programs for individuals with diabetes or prediabetes, please call Leslie Shallcross at 907-242-6138.
Leslie Shallcross is the Tanana District health, home and family development agent for Cooperative Extension Service, a part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. She can be reached at (907)474-2426 or firstname.lastname@example.org.