Helping Teens Adapt to Diabetes

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photo of Dr. Commissarat

Persis Commissariat, Ph.D.

Treatment for type 1 diabetes has – thankfully – come a long way.  But for many teenagers, the daily demands of constant blood sugar monitoring and insulin shots are overwhelming.

The stress can make kids opt out of diabetes self care.

Research has shown that glycemic control is much worse during the turbulent teen years, says Persis Commissariat, Ph.D., a Pediatric Psychology Fellow and Clinician in the Pediatrics Clinic at Joslin Diabetes Center.

“There are biological reasons for the decline in glycemic control, but teens with diabetes also have lots of competing interests, which may lead to diabetes being less of a priority in their lives. For many, it can be hard to accept their illness. Perhaps they feel like diabetes doesn’t fit in with who they are or who they want to be, so they tend to avoid dealing with it.”

But teens who can accept their diabetes may be more likely to take control of their diabetes management and, as a result, experience better health outcomes.

In her own research, Dr. Commissariat has uncovered similar truths. Based on surveys and interviews of 85 teenagers with type 1 diabetes, she and her colleagues found that when teenagers accepted the illness as part of the self, they reported better self-care, more life satisfaction, and increased diabetes-related self-esteem. (Presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Diabetes Association 2014.)

“Accepting diabetes and its treatment as part of the self is a more positive way of coping with the illness. It means that people are adapting to diabetes over time,” she explains. “The key is diabetes becomes just another part of who they are. They don’t rebel against it. They’re not embarrassed by it, and they don’t let it stand in their way.”

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