Young people urged to ‘respect type 1 diabetes’
Young people who are newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes should respect the condition but “not let it define them”, according to NHS England’s chief nursing officer.
At the age of 19, Jane Cummings was told she had type 1 diabetes and she started injecting insulin several times a day.
Now, in her 50s, Jane said: “I found it a bit daunting when I was first diagnosed as I was looking after a lady who had had both legs amputated and was blind because of it. But I haven’t let it define me or let it stop me doing anything.”
It is thought around 303,000 people have type 1 in the UK and most people are usually diagnosed between the ages of 9-14.
Some people say it is a restriction on the things you can do but I say it’s far better to look after yourself, treat your diabetes with respect, don’t mess with it and if you do that you’ll be fitter and healthier and have fewer complications
Unlike type 2 diabetes, the autoimmune condition is not caused by lifestyle factors and if left untreated it can lead to complications such as limb amputation, blindness and kidney disease.
Jane added: “I trained as a nurse and worked in many different roles including A&E where I needed to be available at the drop of a hat and be flexible. My current role involves a lot of travelling and evening work but you just have to get on and take care.”
Although the diagnosis came as a shock to Jane, she had the support from a colleague who had a daughter with the condition as well as her diabetes specialist nurse.
Jane added: “They helped me look at the food I was eating and think about how much insulin I was giving myself. I did have to rethink some of my diet, I used to have sugar in tea and I probably cut back on cake, chocolate and sweets. I have a sensible balanced diet but it doesn’t mean you can’t have fun.
“Some people say it is a restriction on the things you can do but I say it’s far better to look after yourself, treat your diabetes with respect, don’t mess with it and if you do that you’ll be fitter and healthier and have fewer complications. In the long run it’s the right thing to do.
“Type 2 tends to occur later in life and it’s something you can prevent but it doesn’t mean once you’ve got it you can’t manage it. There are some people with type 2 who don’t have to take anything at all – but the best advice is to look after your health and lifestyle and avoid developing it if you can.”
Dr Partha Kar, associate national clinical director for diabetes for NHS England, works closely with many young people with type 1 diabetes.
Also a Diabetes Times contributor, Dr Kay has developed a new way to help young people with type 1 diabetes understand their condition through art – by turning them into comic book superheroes.
With Revolve Comics he and his team are transforming patients’ understanding of the condition with the hope of spreading the type 1 diabetes message.
For those readers who are newly-diagnosed, they will feel more empowered to look after themselves and see it is possible to live a long, healthy life with type 1.
Dr Kar, who is also a consultant in diabetes and endocrinology at Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “We really want to speak to children and young people receiving their diagnoses of type1 diabetes as soon as we can to make sure they begin thinking about their condition and what it means.
“Educating children at young ages about taking regular medicine, needles and a life-long condition can be very scary for them but through using fun and interactive mediums and appealing to them in different ways we can tap into their imagination and begin to educate them subtly.”
NHS England has also launched Healthier You: the NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme which started this year across England with a first wave of 27 areas covering 26 million people, half of the population, and making up to 20,000 places available.
This will roll-out to the whole country by 2020 with an expected 100,000 referrals available each year after. Those referred will get tailored, personalised help to reduce their risk of type 2 diabetes including education on healthy eating and lifestyle, help to lose weight and bespoke physical exercise programmes, all of which together have been proven to reduce the risk of developing the disease.