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What Are Special Concerns For Children And Adolescents With Diabetes?

The National Institutes Of Health's "National Diabetes Education Program"

Diabetes presents unique issues for young people with the disease. Simple things, such as going to a birthday party, playing sports, or staying overnight with friends, need careful planning. Checking blood glucose, making correct food choices, and taking insulin or oral medication can make school-age children feel "different" from their classmates and this can be particularly bothersome for teens.

For any child or teen with diabetes, learning to cope with the disease is a big task. Dealing with a chronic illness such as diabetes may cause emotional and behavioral challenges, sometimes leading to depression. Talking to a social worker or psychologist may help young people and their families learn to adjust to the lifestyle changes needed to stay healthy.

What Can Families And Others Do?

Managing diabetes in children and adolescents is most effective when the entire family gets involved. Diabetes education should involve family members. Families can be encouraged to share concerns with physicians, diabetes educators, dietitians, and other health care providers to get their help in the day-to-day management of diabetes. Extended family members, teachers, school nurses, counselors, coaches, day care providers, and other resources in the community can provide information, support, guidance, and help with coping skills. These individuals also may be knowledgeable about resources for health education, financial services, social services, mental health counseling, transportation, and home visits

Diabetes is stressful for both the children and their families. Parents should be alert for signs of depression or eating disorders or insulin omission to lose weight and seek appropriate treatment. While all parents should talk to their children about avoiding tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs, this is particularly important for children with diabetes. Smoking and diabetes each independently increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and people with diabetes who smoke have a greatly increased risk of heart disease and circulatory problems. Binge drinking can cause hyperglycemia acutely, followed by an increased risk of hypoglycemia. The symptoms of intoxication are very similar to the symptoms of hypoglycemia, and thus, may result in delay of treatment of hypoglycemia with potentially disastrous consequences.

Transition to Independence

Children with diabetes––depending on their age and level of maturity––will learn to take over much of their care. Most school-age children can recognize symptoms of hypoglycemia and monitor blood glucose levels. They also participate in nutrition decisions. They often can give their own insulin injections but may not be able to draw up the dose accurately in a syringe until a developmental age of 11 to 12 years.

Adolescents often have the motor and cognitive skills to perform all diabetes-related tasks and determine insulin doses based on blood glucose levels and food intake. This is a time, however, when peer acceptance is important, risk-taking behaviors common, and rebellion against authority is part of teens’ search for independence. Thus, adolescents must be supervised in their diabetes tasks and allowed gradual independence with the understanding that the independence will be continued only if they adhere to the diabetes regimen and succeed in maintaining reasonable metabolic control. During mid-adolescence, the family and health care team should stress to teens the importance of checking blood glucose levels prior to driving a car to avoid hypoglycemia while driving.

Last updated December 18, 2009




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