Young people with diabetes need attention: experts


Adolescents and young adults are often left out of the equation when it comes to understanding the implications of diabetes on their home, school, work and social life, says a diabetes expert.

With more and more young adults being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and a lack of understanding around the distress adolescents experience with type 1 diabetes, we are facing an urgent need to develop and implement tailored healthcare and support services to cater to them, says Virginia Hagger, Associate Research Fellow at The Australian Centre for Behavioural Research in Diabetes.

Speaking ahead of her involvement in the Better Understanding the Needs of Young People with Diabetes: A Behavioural Perspective symposium at the ADS/ADEA Annual Scientific Meeting, Hagger says the developmental period of adolescence opens up exciting new opportunities for teenagers to engage differently with family, friends and the world around them, however, for those with diabetes, finding a path through adolescence can be particularly challenging.

“Being a teenager is hard enough without the added responsibility of diabetes self-management,” she says. “For example, there are currently 10,580 young Australians aged 10-19 years living with diabetes, with the majority of these (93%) having type 1 diabetes.

“Diabetes self-management is often not ideal during the adolescent years. Prolonged high blood glucose levels can lead to early-onset of serious long-term complications.

“High and low blood glucose levels are a major concern for young people with type 1 diabetes and their families.

“From girls ‘worrying about their weight’ and boys concerned about ‘friends or family not understanding how difficult living with diabetes can be’, it’s important we bring to the fore young people’s perceptions about living with diabetes, and their self-care behaviours, so we can inform future health policy and service provisions—so that young people and their families can receive optimal care and support.”

At the symposium, Hagger will present findings from a recent systematic review and initial analyses of the Diabetes MILES Youth study. She will discuss the aspects of diabetes that are most distressing for adolescents, associations between diabetes distress and other diabetes outcomes, and the assessment of diabetes distress.

Dr Jessica Browne, Research Fellow at The Australian Centre for Behavioural Research in Diabetes, will conclude the session with a discussion on her case-controlled analysis of young adults with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, investigating depression, anxiety and self-care behaviours among these two groups.

“More and more young adults are being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and as such we’re facing an urgent need to develop and implement tailored healthcare and support services for them,” says Dr Browne.

“No longer can people say that type 1 diabetes is more serious than type 2, as we have research that suggests type 2 diabetes is as challenging as type 1 for young adults.

“Traditionally, type 2 diabetes has been considered a condition of older age, however with young adults being one of the fastest demographics being diagnosed with the condition, the time is now to shed a light on this issue.

“These individuals will be living with diabetes for a long time, they have complex lives – reflective of their current life stage, whether that is focusing on their careers, starting relationships, starting families, travel and financial pressures.

“Evidence suggests that young-onset type 2 diabetes has a faster progression, meaning they will be more likely to develop diabetes complications such as diabetic retinopathy which can lead to vision loss, or neuropathy which can lead to limb amputation.

“We need to get healthcare right for this group, and soon, so that we can support them in their management of their condition as best they can, and have a good quality life,” says Dr Browne.

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