How much do we talk about international diabetes education? As a travel lover and person with type 1, I'm always interested in (and often surprised by) finding new opportunities for connection and discovery provided by this unusual aspect of my life.
Finland has the highest incidence of type 1 diabetes in the world, with a yearly rate of 57.4 cases per every 100,000 children aged 0-14 (by contrast, the United States experiences a rate of 16 cases/100,000 children 0-14 years old). While every country has its own ways of connecting with the adolescent type 1 population, there are also similarities to the strategies employed to coach those challenged with managing what can be an incredibly frustrating chronic disease.
Such was the topic of discussion when I recently talked with Ms. Sari Koski via email. Sari is the Project Manager for One Life: Diabetes, developed by the Diabetes Centre in Tampere, Finland. One Life: Diabetes offers a unique resource for teenagers with type 1 diabetes: a group called Club One. Here's some interesting information about Club One that sheds some light on how diabetes professionals in Finland offer support to adolescents with type 1:
Community is important. Sara says, "Teenagers don’t often know many other people with type 1 so they might feel different to others. That’s why they might not want to treat themselves properly. In Club One they meet others with type 1 and also a young adult who knows what it is to be a teenager with type 1 diabetes."
A peer atmosphere and a mentor to look up to for advice? Sign my teen self up! From my experience, I can see how this structure helps eliminate feelings of being ostracized and cultivates a sense of belonging in an accepting environment, ideally leading to better self-care among the teens with type 1.
Life isn't all about diabetes. Sari says the project stands out among other resources due to Club One's multifaceted approach to its programming.
"We have combined peer support, information (education) and having fun in the same package. There are resources from health care available as well. Groups have the activity (sic) that teenagers like to do."
I know that I could have used all of these elements when dealing with diabetes as a teenager!
I know from working with AADE on various projects that diabetes professionals around the world can share insight and offer ideas to one another. Learning about diabetes is a constant process for everyone involved.
Sari recommends incorporating activity when counseling teenagers about taking care of themselves and being responsible for their health.
"It is a good idea to listen to the teenagers themselves and to seek possibilities that teenagers have something to do together (sic). Education can be fun and it can be performed by doing things instead of talking and listening."
Most importantly, Club One is a place where teens feel that they belong. "Every teenager deserves to feel “normal” in some group in his / her life. In this group it is normal to measure blood sugar and to get insulin. In some other groups it might not be." It's such a powerful message, and one that's important to remember for diabetes educators around the world.