Diabetes education and outreach reduces long-term complications

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The numbers just don’t add up. While the Canadian Diabetes Association estimates one thousand people learn they have diabetes every week, few people are registered in vital Diabetes Education Programs that help them to understand and manage their ongoing care.

In response, through funding from the Ministry of Health, the Durham Region Diabetes Network (DRDN) at Lakeridge Health has created an Outreach Team consisting of medical professionals who are dedicated to teaching people how to manage their diabetes.

“We know from research that ongoing diabetes education and care reduces the development of long-term complications such as Chronic Kidney Disease, blindness or even amputation,” says Christina Vaillancourt, Patient Care Specialist at Lakeridge Health’s DRDN and Regional Nephrology Program. “Through education, we can help people better manage their diabetes so that they can hopefully avoid these risks.”

The Durham Region Diabetes Network aims to improve diabetes education around Durham Region through coordination of care and collaboration of education programs. The network has been established for approximately four years.

Whether seeking care or information from a local pharmacist or a senior’s centre, the network allows patients with diabetes to receive standardized care through creating a collaborative community of health-care service providers. DRDN has also created standardized referral forms and education booklets used across the region.

Helen Johnston, a community member who met the DRDN’s Outreach Team at the Oshawa Senior Citizen’s Centre’s 12th Annual Senior’s Month celebration, has used diabetes education as inspiration to change her lifestyle. “[Diabetes Education] is very important, and I didn’t realize that years ago,” says Johnston. “I think the younger people are when they find out about it, the better they try to watch for the signs that they may be diabetic.”

Lakeridge Health’s Outreach Team consists of a Registered Nurse and a Registered Dietitian who each have years of experience helping community members become experts in diabetes management. Vaillancourt, who worked to create the team, says their objective is to connect with people who are not currently registered in a Diabetes Education Program, while at the same time, share and coordinate information with other local care providers and diabetes education centres.

The team offers education in a variety of ways. They host monthly support groups for people with diabetes and their families, which allow people to get together and learn how to manage diabetes in a healthy way. They also have guest speakers, activities and many other events that are free of charge. In fact, in an effort to promote an active lifestyle, the Outreach Team organized the DRDN Nordic pole walking class for persons with diabetes in June.

“You can’t teach everyone everything they need to know about diabetes in a few hours or even a few days,” says Emily Harrison, Patient Care Manager at Lakeridge Health. “When you take part in a registered Diabetes Education Program, you receive ongoing care. This helps people understand that diabetes is a disease that can be managed well when you have the knowledge and skills to reduce your chances of complications.”

The hope is that a brief but informative encounter with an Outreach Team will inspire those with diabetes to register in formal education programs. These programs allow persons with diabetes to create a dialogue with professionals and better understand their journey of care.

The team has been welcomed throughout Durham Region and has received many requests to provide diabetes education to schools, men’s groups, bible groups, retirement homes, education and health fairs and many other local community gatherings. Their current schedule is filled well into October.

“The risk of complications drops when people with diabetes have access to ongoing care. Science tells us it’s the little things, like encouraging somebody to check their blood sugar twice a day instead of once, that can improve their overall health,” adds Vaillancourt. “It’s lifestyle management—diabetes is all about lifestyle. You need ongoing support to help you think about how you exercise, how you eat and how to strategize as your life changes. It’s not as easy when you’re doing it on your own.”