Since physicians can rarely devote enough time to newly diagnosed patients, it's typically a diabetes educator who teaches you how to keep your blood sugar in check, what to eat, and ways to change your life to prevent complications.
But diabetes educators offer so much more. They can help relieve your fear and anxiety and help you cope with many other aspects of the disease beyond the physical problems.
Learning how to inject insulin
After Al Kott learned that he had type 2 diabetes in 1994, it progressed quickly, and three years later he needed to start using insulin.
He had worked with diabetes educators after his diagnosis and found them to be a great source of information, so he headed back to learn how to use insulin. The educatorwho didn't have diabeteswas "telling me to do this and do that, and she pulls up her blouse and gives herself an injection of salt water. She never stops talking! She doesn't even break her sentence!" Kott recalls.
"She took an injection for me just to show me it wasn't a bad thing," recalls the 66-year-old retired chemical engineer, who lives in Midland, Mich.
The more you know, the better you'll do
These are classes (it often takes several visits to absorb all the information) that can literally save your life.
"Most chronic diseases, when you get diagnosed, you don't go to a formal education class," says Janet Davidson, RN, of the International Diabetes Center at Park Nicollet near Minneapolis, Minn. "Diabetes is different in that respect."
A 2001 analysis, which combined the results of 72 earlier studies, found that people who had diabetes education were more likely to frequently and accurately check blood sugar, maintain better eating habits, and control blood sugar, particularly in the short term, than those who did not.
A 2007 study that also reviewed earlier research showed that getting diabetes education could improve physical function, mental health, and vitality, in addition to reducing pain and limitations due to physical problems.
How to find a diabetes educator
Ask your doctor to refer you to a diabetes educator, or find one through the American Association of Diabetes Educators, Davidson suggests. There are about 12,000 members in the organization.
You may also find individual or group diabetes education in your area, Davidson says. Research has shown that group sessions are at least as effective as individual meetings.
When Kott thinks back on the education classes he took 13 years ago, he still remembers specific photos, charts, and graphs that the instructor showed the class to drive home the importance of maintaining good diabetes control. That's why he enthusiastically recommends them to others who are new to diabetes.
He ponders whether he could have learned all that information on his own. "Slowly, very slowly," he says, reconsidering. "Probably not, in fact."