A symposium on Sunday, June 27, will help Scientific Sessions participants quantify the toll the COVID-19 pandemic has taken on diabetes patients and their families. The two-hour session, When COVID-19 Clashes with Diabetes—Data and Experiences Regarding the Impact on People with Diabetes, will begin at 4:30 p.m. ET.
Catlin Dennis, MPH, Novel Interventions in Children’s Healthcare (NICH) Manager, Women’s & Children’s Services, Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, will share data collected during the pandemic through the NICH program highlighting the impact of COVID-19 on medically and socially vulnerable youth. The NICH program serves youth with diabetes (type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, maturity onset diabetes of the young [MODY], and cystic fibrosis-related diabetes [CFRD]) and their families who experience significant social vulnerabilities that impede successful diabetes management.
The pandemic affected youth in the NICH program differentially given their prepandemic challenges, which illustrates the need for health equity to be a lens that informs all aspects of diabetes care, Dennis said. She will discuss the need for health care providers and administrators to seek innovative ways to help diabetes patients who are struggling with everyday life challenges that profoundly impact diabetes outcomes.
“While we are beyond eager to return to ‘normal’ and are well aware of the devastation that continues to occur because of COVID, we hope to take these ‘silver linings,’ learn from them, and continue to implement things that we found particularly helpful that resulted out of necessity because of the pandemic,” Dennis said.
Gretchen Piatt, PhD, MPH, will discuss how African Americans in the metropolitan Detroit area managed their diabetes during the COVID-19 pandemic as the area became a hotspot of COVID cases. Dr. Piatt will share results from a study she recently completed with colleagues that examined some of the real-world ramifications that COVID-19 had on this vulnerable population.
“So many of our study participants lost friends and family members to COVID over these past 15 months,” Dr. Piatt said. “On top of their grief, it became common knowledge through both scientific journals and the media that people with diabetes, particularly African Americans, are at increased risk of serious COVID complications and even death. Managing diabetes is really tough to begin with, let alone in a pandemic where fear and anxiety are at all-time highs.”
Christine H. Wang, PhD, will discuss the psychosocial experiences of parents of young children with type 1 diabetes during the pandemic. Dr. Wang and colleagues conducted one of the few studies that prospectively examined both negative and positive changes in general and diabetes-specific psychosocial experiences among this parental group.
“COVID-19 is associated with heightened stress in parents,” said Dr. Wang, Postdoctoral Psychology Fellow, Children’s National Hospital, and owner/founder of District Psychology Center, LLC, a psychotherapy practice. “Parents initially reported increased positive diabetes-specific experiences at the beginning of COVID, three to four months in. But about six months following that, parents report decreased positive diabetes-specific experiences.”
Sarah Westen, PhD, will provide an overview of how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the mental health of people living with diabetes. Dr. Westen, Director of Diabetes Behavioral Medicine and Psychology, and Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Florida, will review a study conducted at the university involving adults with type 1 or type 2 diabetes that examined psychological symptoms associated with the pandemic that could affect both short-term and long-term health outcomes. The study began in the fall of 2020, with follow-up questionnaires at three months and six months to gauge how psychological symptoms changed during the course of the pandemic.
The ADA Standards of Care in Diabetes recommends screening diabetes patients for depression, distress, and anxiety, said Dr. Westen, noting that screening is even more critical during times of external stress. Understanding how stressors impact individual diabetes patients can help promote optimal health outcomes.
Screening can even lead to some positive surprises. While the stress of the pandemic led to decreased adherence in diabetes management for many, it also helped some make improvements to diet and exercise regimens, Dr. Westen noted.
“Providers and scientists need to keep in mind that every patient and family situation is different, and how the development of resilience varies,” she added. “Keeping this in mind and not making assumptions about people’s well-being is important. It really comes down to screening implementation, talking to the person, and thinking about how we can intervene on an individual level to help.”