Teenagers and young adults may improve diabetes management through peer mentoring

Wed, 28 Jan 2015
New research suggests that teenagers who share their experiences of type 1 diabetes have better control over their type 1 diabetes.

The study, published in The Diabetes Educator, analysed 54 diabetic adolescents aged between 13 and 18 - teenagers - and between 19 and 25 - young adults. The idea was that, in the prospective peer-mentoring group, the young adults would be the mentors of the 13-18 year olds.

The study

Both groups claimed to have medium adherence to diabetes management tasks, but the adolescent group received higher scores. Young adults reported a lower adherence for blood glucose testing, eating on time, taking insulin at the right time, and checking for ketones.

87 per cent of adolescents knew their most recent HbA1c levels; that figure was 80 per cent for young adults. However, only 78 per cent of adolescents met the age-specific HbA1c recommendations, while 89 per cent of the young adults did.

Adolescents were also more likely to have social issues with diabetes. Far more teenagers reported feeling embarrassed about insulin injections in social situations.

87 per cent of young adults were interested in a diabetes peer mentoring program, compared to just 57 per cent of adolescents. Adolescents were more likely to be interested in a diabetes peer mentoring program if they had supportive friends who were aware of their diabetes. Living with a big family, or in a bigger household, also helped.

Of the twenty-three adults who were not interested in peer mentoring, 60 per cent felt they did not need help, 22 per cent felt uncomfortable about sharing their experiences, and 26 per cent did not think they had time for a diabetes peer mentoring group.

What do the results mean?

The researchers wrote: "Adolescents who lack positive experiences communicating about their diabetes with friends may not have a frame of reference for understanding how a peer mentoring program could be beneficial.

"However, they may benefit as much, or more, from a peer mentoring program. Innovative incentives may be needed to reach prospective mentees who are less willing to share their diabetes experiences. Alternatively, other interventions not involving direct social interactions may be more suitable to improve adherence in these individuals."

Yang Lu, assistance professor at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, said: "Many adolescents and young adults with type 1 diabetes are interested in peer mentoring as an approach to help improve patients adherence and glycemic control. Clinicians play a critical role in identifying and connecting youth with diabetes who seek peer support."

The importance of community support

Community support is consistently proven to improve diabetes management. A 2013 survey indicated that the diabetes.co.uk forum - the UK's largest, with over 80,000 members - helped members in a number of ways:
  • 35.2 per cent of members improved their HbA1c levels
  • 54.4 per cent of members improved their dietary choices
  • 71.4 per cent of members reported having a better understanding of their diabetes
  • 44.1 per cent of members improved their blood glucose control
  • 48.3per cent believe they have improved their ability to cope with diabetes
  • 48.5 per cent have more confidence that they can manage their diabetes
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