Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Parent's Guide to Coping with Diabetes

Guest post by the team at Nutricia

CC Photo by Lauren Grace Picture Place on Flickr
Diabetes is a condition we usually associate with the older generation who take a large amount of pills and 10 sugars in their coffee, against their doctor’s advice. When we hear of diabetes in a child, it often shocks us. But should it?

Diabetes affects approximately 17 in every 100,000 children under 16 years of age. Most of these (around 90-95 percent) have type 1 diabetes. This is where the body does not produce the insulin that is required to break down sugar in the blood. However, the increase of childhood obesity has seen type 2 diabetes become more prevalent, where it was previously extremely rare in young people.

Is My Child Diabetic?

The causes of it are unclear. Some children are born diabetic, where others develop it later, many in their teens. It is common for children with Down’s syndrome to be diabetic, and occasionally a premature baby may have it too. Fortunately, for the premature infant, the diabetes often resolves itself as their premature organs begin to function properly.

For those who develop it, they may experience symptoms such as fatigue, weight loss, thirst, or regular trips to the toilet. Diagnosis can be confirmed by a blood or urine test.

Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes were traditionally treated differently. Children with type 1, previously named IDDM (insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus) are usually treated with insulin, as the body cannot produce it. Type 2 is usually controlled solely by medications which help the body to do what it already does, but more effectively. A controlled diet is essential, and some children may be treated with medical nutritional supplements until their condition is better controlled.

What's a Parent to Do?

The best thing for a parent to do is get organised. Get to know your child’s condition. It may feel like a complete head-bust at first, and rightly so. When we care for ourselves, we may find we are a little forgetful sometimes. If it is only us affected by our decision, it may not matter to us as much, but caring for a diabetic child demands that we are super focussed and know what to do. If diabetes isn’t managed effectively, it can have serious consequences.

Everyone who cares for your child, including family members, childcare, teachers, or nursery staff, should know about their condition. It may help you to sit down one day and prepare a sheet with your child’s routine, do’s and don’ts, and medication doses if it needs to be administered when you aren’t around. This way, the pressure isn’t just on you, and if anything should happen while they are in someone else’s care, they know how to handle it.

Explaining this to a child may be frightening for them, but it is important to be honest with them about things, while keeping it light. Most of them are terrified of needles or injections, as are many adults, so it is very important not to make a big deal of their insulin, but instead to place emphasis on how good they are and how good they will feel if they take their medication properly.

What Should My Child Do?

Children may feel like you control their condition, so give them some of the reins when they are old enough. Let them help you to choose their food, or take them with you to pick up their medication if possible. For those who have a home blood glucose test, teaching them how to test themselves (with supervision) may help too.

It can be frustrating for a diabetic child when they cannot have sweets like their friends. Thankfully, food manufacturers caught on a few years ago and sugar free lollipops and ‘diabetic’ chocolates are now widely marketed. There is no harm in the odd treat (although fruit is better!), but slip a sugary snack in their bag for use in case their sugar drops unexpectedly.

An increasing number of children that have diabetes are also diagnosed with an allergy such as a cows’ milk allergy, this makes it difficult for the child to consume a nutritional diet that is necessary for a healthy growth. However many sugar free nutritional supplements are now available for children that have been diagnosed with a mixture of allergy’s such as cow’s milk allergy and diabetes.

As a parent, making things easy for you is essential. Search online or ask your GP about support groups for parents like yourself. Having a child is a big challenge, but managing a medical condition can be demanding. Don’t be too hard on yourself.  Diabetes is a completely controllable condition that should not scare anyone, and once you are on top of it, your child can have an otherwise normal life.

Nutricia specialize in the delivery of advanced medical nutrition for the very young, the old and the sick. As well as being the largest specialist nutrition company in Europe, Nutricia is the market leader in the UK. They supply high quality feeds, systems and support services to patients and health care professionals. 

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