Getting diagnosed with diabetes can be scary news, but education and preparation for your new life living with the disease can make all the difference. Here are some tips from the diabetes specialists in the Joslin Clinic. They will help set you on the right path for consistent diabetes management and provide some guidance on the first steps you should take as a person living with diabetes.
- Most importantly, make sure you’re seeing a diabetes specialist (an endocrinologist, diabetologist or certified diabetes educator) at least once every six months.
- Learn about diabetes and food. While there really is no longer a “diabetes diet,” having diabetes means learning how to make good food choices and how to maintain a balance between your medication and carbohydrates. Work with your diabetes specialist to start the ongoing process of educating yourself on how this is done. In addition, take advantage of the many good resources that are out there, including (of course) the Joslin Diabetes Center website (www.joslin.org) , as well as the American Diabetes Association (www.diabetes.org), the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (www.jdrf) and dLife TV (www.dlife.com).
- Ideally, you should also see an exercise physiologist for help in developing a physical activity plan. Notice that we don’t call it exercise anymore (you don’t have to join a gym though you can if you want, of course). There are lots of different ways to increase your activity levels; we have a lot of tips on how to find some you like at http://www.joslin.org/info/creating_your_physical_activity_program.html
- Scheduling an appointment with a social worker, psychologist or other mental health professional can help with the stresses and challenges of living with a chronic disease. There are also many good public resources you can take advantage of. We like dLife TV (check out http://www.dlife.com/dlifeTv/dlifeTvHome.php for online videos and the program schedule) which always has a lot of good stories on people who are dealing with the same things you are. If you begin to feel isolated by diabetes or overwhelmed by things, there are a number of good online forums where you can talk to other people who’ve had the same experiences; try the Joslin Discussion Boards at http://forums.joslin.org.
- Every person with diabetes should have regular annual eye exams by an ophthalmologist. Eye problems (most often retinopathy) can happen to anyone–and they can happen fast. See an eye doctor to make sure that any eye problems associated with diabetes are caught early and treated before they become serious.
- You should be seeing a diabetes specialist regularly (remember, that’s the first tip). Your diabetes specialist should check your feet as part of your appointment; if he or she forgets, speak up. Also, make sure that you’re monitoring your feet for any skin changes, sores or wounds. Having a yearly exam with a podiatrist can also be a very good idea to ensure that there are no major circulation problems or nerve damage.
- Blood glucose monitoring is the basis of self-management. Learn how to monitor your blood glucose (aka blood sugar). Work with your diabetes specialist to determine how often you should be checking your blood glucose. Your testing routine will help determine how well your meal plan, activity plan, and medication are working to keep blood glucose levels in your target range. Whatever schedule you and your specialist decide on, stick to it! It’s important.
All this sounds like a lot of work, and it is. But millions of people with diabetes have mastered the skills needed to live well with diabetes, and you can, too. With the proper education and consistently applying what you learn, you can take control of diabetes and prevent it from controlling you.