During a virtual symposium at the Scientific Sessions, three experts discussed challenges faced by young adults with type 1 diabetes as they make the transition from childhood to adulthood. The panelists emphasized the importance of strong support systems and access to helpful resources.
The symposium Improving Type 1 Diabetes Management in Young Adults—Time to (Re)Strategize? can be viewed by registered meeting attendees at ADA2020.org through September 10, 2020. If you haven’t registered for the Virtual 80th Scientific Sessions, register today to access all of the valuable meeting content.
“As a teen or young adult with type 1 diabetes, you can hardly get out of bed before glancing at a device beeping at you and telling you to do a task—check your blood sugar, take more insulin, your pump might be malfunctioning, you need to take a certain amount of carbs to fix your blood sugar. The list goes on throughout the entire day,” said Jennifer Saylor, PhD, APRN, ACNS-BC, Assistant Professor in the School of Nursing and the Department of Behavior Health and Nutrition at the University of Delaware.
Dr. Saylor opened the symposium with a discussion of how “lived experiences” can impact young adults’ engagement in diabetes care. Often one of the first and most challenging transitions is when a young adult leaves for college.
“As that young adult is changing, so is the parent’s role. For many parents, it’s hard to give up that role of taking care of their child with type 1 diabetes,” Dr. Saylor said. “For the young adult, type 1 diabetes affects all aspects of their life and complicates college living. Support—not just from friends, but from campus officials—is important. Having a campus diabetes support network, for example, is very helpful.”
Anna Floreen Sabino, MSW, CDCES, Program Director for the College Diabetes Network (CDN), provided an overview of the CDN and discussed resources available to young adults and their families, with an emphasis on the “magic” of peer connections and support systems.
“Young adults living with type 1 diabetes are so vulnerable,” she said. “This age group is so important because they are so easy to lose track of in terms of their clinical care, yet they need the most help, love, and support as they transition through so many life milestones. They need more support and help than just a clinic visit. Peer support is a huge asset that is often overlooked in clinical care settings.”
The primary mission of the CDN, Sabino said, is to create peer support programs and provide educational resources for young adults with type 1 diabetes and their families.
“CDN really focuses on all the transitions that occur in this age group, from establishing independence, to moving out, to figuring out how insurance works, etc.,” she said. “So many transitions take place in the age of young adulthood and these young adults need empowerment and peer support to help them feel better about doing better.”
Persis V. Commissariat, PhD, Clinical Psychologist and Research Associate at the Joslin Diabetes Center and an Instructor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School, discussed the challenges of “adulting” with type 1 diabetes.
“Young adults face a lot of uncertainty and anxiety as they begin to plan out their futures. And now with the added stressor of COVID-19, they are facing even more uncertainty, which can contribute to heightened psychological and emotional stress,” Dr. Commissariat said.
That heightened stress can negatively impact their health and diabetes management, she added. In surveys of young adults with type 1 diabetes, some of the most common concerns they are experiencing during COVID-19 include how diabetes increases their risk of contracting the virus and worsens recovery, how to manage their blood glucose levels if they contract the virus, how the pandemic will affect access to supplies/medications, and how losing income or employment might affect their diabetes care.
“We know that depression, anxiety, distress, and isolation can begin or worsen during these times of great stress,” Dr. Commissariat said. “We need to encourage young adults to be open about their struggles, network with other people with diabetes, and reach out to professionals when they need help.”