Giving Diabetic Kids Greater Freedom with Insulin Pump Training

Type I diabetes affects around one in every 400 children and young people, and can have a serious effect not only on their health but also on their lifestyles.  When a youngster is dependent on insulin injections to control blood sugar this may to some extent take over his life.  He cannot just go round to a friend’s house for dinner, as he needs to take his insulin at home.  Whatever fun activities his friends are doing, he has to consider his condition and probably go home to take his injection.  For parents too this can be difficult; if they are not worrying about whether their child is remembering he has to take his insulin, they are saddened because they see him missing fun and outings.

The insulin pump, available for many years for diabetics, delivers insulin into the bloodstream in much the same way as the pancreas in a non-diabetic person would deliver it.  Technological developments have made these devices, which can be used by Type I diabetics and Type II diabetics who need insulin, very compact and easily carried.  The device consists of a pump unit with controls and batteries, cannula and tubing to deliver the insulin under the skin and a disposable insulin container. These devices are now as small as a cell phone, and even a small child can wear one on the belt without difficulty.

Now health authorities across the country are running programs to teach diabetic children and their families how to use the device properly, how to set it up, place the needle under the skin, and how to calculate the units of insulin delivered.  The families are also taught how to medicate for high and low blood sugar and how to deliver an intramuscular insulin injection to quickly lower blood sugar.

The program, usually covered by health insurance, includes training on monitoring blood sugar and taking into account extra physical activity such as sports, what to do if they become sick, which foods are best for them, and which foods are best avoided or eaten in moderation.  The program may require the families to stay for a few days at their local healthcare facility.

Families who have used the program report that they feel much better about coping with diabetes as a result, and children report feeling reassured and confident after having the training.

One big advantage, especially for very young children, is that the pump replaces regular painful injections, releasing insulin throughout the day as the child’s blood sugar level rises and falls.  Another is the increased flexibility the pump offers to children who want to live their lives just as their friends do, rather than having to stick to a strict schedule.

Although the pump system may seem complicated to use, the program enables children and their parents to become familiar with its use.  They can also learn to customize the insulin rate to take into account the child’s own special needs, such as the time they usually get up or go to bed.

Doctors like the pump because its use is associated with the prevention of long-term complications of diabetes. Some “smart” insulin pumps even keep an accurate record of insulin delivery which can be downloaded to a computer.

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