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Finding Your Way in a Type 2 Diabetes Support Group
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Being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes can be overwhelming. After all, managing the condition can often mean overhauling your lifestyle. While friends and family can be there to help, getting support from others with type 2 diabetes can improve your outlook and make it easier to create your new “normal.”
“Type 2 diabetes typically develops after lifestyle habits have already been formed, so there’s a disruption in what’s considered ‘normal’ for someone’s daily routines,” says Toby Smithson, RDN, CDE, a diabetes lifestyle expert for Livongo Health, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, author of "Diabetes Meal Planning and Nutrition for Dummies," and a diabetes support group leader.
“With the diagnosis of diabetes, lifestyle changes are usually required, which can put a detour in your normal path,” she says, adding that support from people who are on that same journey can be comforting and helpful.
A study on the attitudes, wishes, and needs of those with diabetes, conducted at Penn State College of Medicine, found that 46 percent of people with diabetes suffered from negative social and psychological experiences as a result of their diabetes, according to a September 2014 report in Diabetes Care. But the researchers also discovered that despite the difficulties, having a positive outlook and seeking support from others were some of the most helpful tools in combating the challenges of diabetes.
“People with diabetes often feel that, as much as their families and friends love them, they’re isolated and alone when it comes to managing their condition,” says Martha M. Funnell, MS, RN, CDE, associate research scientist at the Michigan Diabetes Research and Training Center Department of Learning Health Sciences. “No one truly understands like someone else with diabetes.”
Being a part of a support group and offering your empathetic ear and your own helpful tips to others can make you feel a little more in control, too. “There is a sense of empowerment when you have the opportunity to help others,” Smithson says.
Finding the Right Type 2 Diabetes Support Group
There are different types of support groups, from phone support to in-person meetings to online support groups, and it’s important to figure out which one works best for your needs and lifestyle. Smithson suggests shopping around and trying out a few in-person support groups to see whether you feel comfortable and whether the group meets your needs.
“Some people want support groups that provide psychosocial and behavioral support, some want continuing education, and others want both,” Funnell says. “So, the best support group is the one that provides what you need, regardless of the forum. As the expert on yourself, you will know when you feel comfortable with the group and when it’s helping.”
Smithson and Funnel offer the following tips when searching for a diabetes support group:
- Start your support group search by looking for programs run by a medical clinic or hospital, or company where certified diabetes educators (CDEs) are employed.
- Make sure the support group is accredited by the American Diabetes Association (ADA) or the American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE).
- Look for a group that's led by a certified diabetes educator (CDE). "The CDE's role is to guide the discussion and make sure accurate information is discussed,” Smithson says.
- Be leery of any support group that tries to sell you products or charge fees, or that promises to cure your diabetes.
- Find a group whose members are welcoming and supportive rather than judgmental or negative.
- Use caution with an online support group. Don’t reveal too much personal information until you are certain that the group is legitimate.
Getting the Most Out of Your Diabetes Support Group
To benefit from your type 2 diabetes support group, you need to be open to the experience, Smithson says. “There’s opportunity to ask questions and learn from others who have walked in your shoes.”
Be prepared with a list of goals and what you are hoping to gain from participating. Before your first meeting, write down several questions that you’d like to ask others. It’s also important to participate and be engaged in the group. Share your story; be a good listener; be a friend; make a friend — and remember that you share a common bond.
In a support group, we all have one thing in common: “We all have diabetes,” Smithson says.
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