Here are some of the challenges they face, and some ways to meet those challenges:
The Reality of Diabetes
Diabetes is so common, everybody knows somebody who has it. It is easy to forget just how serious this disease really is. Parents, however, know exactly how serious it is. The dire consequences of unmanaged diabetes is what keeps them up at night. Here is a small sample of what diabetes can cause:
- Foot damage leading to amputation
- Dental problems
- Kidney failure
Lurking behind all of this is a painful, lingering, undignified death. That is the reality of this awful disease, and why it is such a nightmare for parents of children with diabetes. There is an unavoidable amount of guilt and fear. They worry that it may be their fault, and are afraid that they will not be able to keep the worst from happening.
Technology has provided an invaluable aid for parents of diabetes sufferers in the form of continuous glucose monitors. A CGM system includes a sensor embedded beneath the skin, a small transmitter worn on the body, and a wireless receiver resembling a small iPod that receives continuous information about blood sugar levels. If you are not familiar with this type of device, the Dexcom site is a good place to start your research.
A diabetic child can never know the full joy of being a kid. This is especially true when it comes to diet. Managing diet is one of the biggest challenges of being diabetic. This is even more difficult for children. What do they eat at a friend’s birthday party when cake and ice-cream are being served? Trick or Treat on Halloween is off-limits when candy is off the menu. It is not just carbs a parent has to watch out for. It is also about weight control. Any food items that put on the pounds have to be carefully managed as well.
Kids can still enjoy many of the things enjoyed by their peers like tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. But even that requires extra diligence. Ingredients need to be chosen based on the information on the back of the can or box rather than the front. Portion sizes have to be carefully balanced with other considerations like activity level and insulin production and blood sugar at a given moment. It is all possible, but never easy.
One of the greatest joys of being a kid is getting outside, running and playing with reckless abandon. But when diabetes is involved, nothing is done with reckless abandon. As with diet, playtime is monitored and metered. While exercise is a very good thing for people in general, and for diabetics specifically, extra care has to be taken. Blood sugar can drop dramatically during and after exercise. Further complications are likely when insulin levels are low.
There is also the literal pounding taken by a child’s feet as they play. Most children know when they have suffered damage because they can feel it right away. The moment between a child stepping on a piece of glass and the high-pitch screen is almost non-existent. A diabetic child with sensation loss in their feet can do damage without ever knowing it. Running barefoot in the grass is probably not a very good idea for the diabetic child. Parents have to not only provide protective foot ware, but also need to examine their child’s feet on a regular basis to make sure that there are no issues that could lead to infection and worse. Diabetes is the leading cause of amputation. Some of that can be eliminated with foot checks.
In the 21st century, diabetes remains uncured. But we do have better tools to manage it like CGMs. However, the best tools we have are better information, and the support of friends and family.