Seniors and Diabetes: Attitude is Everything
The approach to diagnosis can help determine your success in dealing with it.
Written by Peg Moline
Diabetes is an insidious disease. When diagnosed with type 1, type 2 or pre-diabetes, it can be daunting and overwhelming. Fortunately, the core diabetes team at Torrance Memorial Medical Center gets it.
“Our philosophy and mission statement,” says Tom Fox, RN, MSN, CNML, program manager of the Torrance Memorial diabetes self-management training program, “is to empower patients to achieve optimum health and improve quality of life through diabetes education, management skills and lifestyle modification.”
Fox and program coordinator Andrea MacMillian, RN, BSN, CDE are all about helping people with the emotional component of diabetes. “A positive attitude is definitely critical to staying healthy when faced with the prospect of diabetes,” MacMillan says. The Torrance Memorial diabetes program offers support groups, classes on nutrition and exercise, and specific groups for those with a diabetes diagnosis and those who have been warned they are pre-diabetic, meaning their blood sugars (a1c) have been running higher than normal for three months or longer.
Just over 10% of Americans live with Type 2 diabetes, while an additional 35% have prediabetes. Type 1 is rarer and often diagnosed in childhood or early adulthood. Both types cause elevated glucose, or sugar, in the bloodstream. If not controlled, high blood sugar levels can cause damage to eyes, kidneys, nerves, cardiovascular system and more.
Regardless of the diagnosis, patients often feel overwhelmed. “So many feel this sense of ‘I did this to myself,’” says MacMillan, “Or ‘It runs in my family, so there’s really nothing I can do.’” Often people feel it’s an inevitable occurrence due to age.
“There are so many misconceptions, feelings of helplessness and even depression,” she continues. “One of the first steps we take is to work on self-forgiveness and look at the realities of each person’s situation. We use information from the community, their family, as well as medical and health information to give people the tools they need and teach them they deserve to take better care of themselves, which in turn helps them take care of others.”
“Our goal is really to take the mystery out of diabetes,” adds Fox, “and put patients back in the driver’s seat.” The program is certified by the American Diabetes Association.
The importance of a positive attitude
Longtime travel journalist and airline PR executive John Clayton, a Torrance Memorial patient enrolled in the diabetes prevention program, says his lifelong motto has been, “Yes, I can.” When his primary care physician told him his a1c was perilously close to diabetic levels, John took immediate action. “When I learned what the severe consequences of diabetes can be, I decided to do everything it took to avoid it.”
Clayton and his wife, Brigitte, met with nutritionist Carole Jakucs, MSN, RN, PHN, CDCES, at Torrance Memorial. She helped the couple come up with a more healthful diet. “Brigitte instituted a fully fresh diet for us,” he says, “We have superb salads every day, and I have eliminated sugar from my life — not easy since I love pastries, cakes and ice cream. Brigitte even found milk low in carbs and long on shelf life. We enrolled in the Torrance Memorial diabetes prevention program and did physical therapy three times a week.”
Clayton has since shown great improvement and has even lost weight. He says the program absolutely “tuned me in and turned me on” to ways to beat this disease. “I got tremendous support from my wife, from Andrea MacMillan and all the others. I am convinced people need a lot of support when they are dealing with diabetes.”
MacMillan agrees. “Communication is key,” she says. “We often hear things like, ‘I didn’t realize how important this was when my doctor talked to me about it in the past.’ Some people are simply not ready to hear it, and many say they feel judged. But I urge them to stay open and realize blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol can be managed and sometimes reversed. We also meet with primary care physicians about the importance of their recommendations and provide information about our program they can pass on to their patients.”
“The program and classes are as specific and individualized as they need to be,” says Tom Fox.
John Clayton agrees the program provides the best kind of support. “It really is important to get people to talk about it.”