Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Help for Teens With Diabetes

Help for Teens With Diabetes

Managing any teenager can be challenging some days. But for parents of teens with Type 1 diabetes, managing them can be a challenge every day.

When dealing with a young person whose condition demands constant monitoring, it can be a running battle to get them to take their blood sugar readings throughout the day, let alone report on how they're doing.

But with a little help from wireless technology, it's getting easier to strike a balance between enforcing the rules for good health and allowing teens the independence they crave.

According to the Canadian Diabetes Association, of the more than three million Canadians currently living with diabetes, approximately 10 per cent have Type 1 diabetes. People are usually diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes before the age of 30, most often during childhood or their teens.

Teaching teens how to manage a chronic condition is far from easy. Karen Moore of Sudbury, Ont., whose 14-year-old son Keegan was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes three-and-a-half years ago, acknowledges that keeping track of his blood sugar readings "can be so difficult for a child his age. But all the technology available has been wonderful for him and for us."

Among other tools, Keegan uses an insulin pump and a glucose monitor that sends his blood sugar readings to his laptop over a wireless connection. His parents can keep track of those readings simply by logging in through a web-based portal from any location. According to Keegan, "it's a lot easier because I don't have to worry about writing it down, and my parents can know what I'm doing. They don't worry as much."

"Diabetes management is a major challenge for adolescents," says Joseph Cafazzo, lead for the Centre for Global eHealth Innovation and associate professor at the University of Toronto.

"They're transitioning from being totally dependant on their parents' care to learning life skills to manage their own care. They want to exert their independence but don't have the maturity to tackle a serious chronic condition. That can lead to a lot of stress in households. It's a tricky problem."

To tackle the diabetes management challenge, the Centre developed a new application called bant, which is targeted squarely at adolescents.

This free downloadable iTunes application lets them enter their blood sugar readings and store them on the Google Health portal using their iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad.

They can also engage in social networking with other Type 1 diabetes patients because the application includes Facebook and Twitter feeds.

Cafazzo says what prompted the development of bant was the fact that behavioralists at the Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) in Toronto observed that no matter how ill teenagers might be, they're never far from their phones.

"That resonated with us," he says. "It's such a natural conduit."

It stands to reason that teens are more inclined to manage their health if there's a smartphone or other wireless device in the picture, agrees Michel Nadeau, president, CEO and founder of Tactio Software, a Montreal-based developer of iPhone and web-integrated applications for health care.

"Smartphones are the No. 1 place that people are ready to consider when managing their own health. You have it with you. It's an everyday thing. It's well deployed and easy to understand."

Karen Moore expects that entering readings into a smartphone will be the next step in Keegan's move to independence. "It would be so much better than other tools. While we hope for a cure in his lifetime, the crucial thing right now is to maintain his health."

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