Preparing Adolescents and Young Adults for Lifelong Diabetes Management

November is Diabetes Awareness Month.

If being a teenager is no picnic, being a teenager with type 1 diabetes (T1DM) can be downright challenging. Adolescents and young adults with diabetes experience significant physical, psychological, and situational demands. They seek independence from parents who have been managing their diabetes at the time that hormonal changes result in unstable glucose levels. In addition to these normative changes, adolescents and young adults with diabetes must also navigate the transition from pediatric to adult health care services.

For these reasons, national organizations recommend preparing young people for the transition process. Yet, a persistent need remains for clinical programs that take into account the specific needs and interests of adolescents and young adults with diabetes.

The recently established Diabetes Transition Program at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh fulfills a need for programs to equip adolescents and young adults with diabetes with confidence, knowledge, and support that can foster successful lifelong disease management.

Supported by the David Paul Diabetes Transition Care Research Initiative Fund, the goals of this program are to provide the best care, and find, through research initiatives, the best ways to support and guide a successful transition for young patients and their parents. The program utilizes a multidisciplinary team approach to diabetes care involving physicians, nurse practitioners, diabetes educators, dietitians, psychologists, and consultants.

Patients attend four sessions in a one year period, each of which includes a routine clinic appointment plus a group discussion led by diabetes educators and other health professionals. The group discussions focus on issues relevant to teenagers within the context of diabetes. Moderators utilize evidence-based approaches and strategies to encourage youth to become increasingly engaged in making informed decisions about their diabetes care. Program participants also learn to use tools like the patient portal and resources that directly connect them to adult care services to help prepare them and their families for a smooth transition to adult care services. By meeting with the same group of peers every three months, the intention is that patients serve as their own support group.

Efforts are under way to increase the scope of services provided through the Diabetes Transition Program. These include running parallel sessions for parents so that they can learn about transition from their child’s perspective and developing web-based interactive lessons to serve as adjuncts to face-to-face sessions.  Telehealth is also being explored as a way to stay connected between clinic visits with patients, especially those who often miss visits due to geography.

To learn more about the Diabetes Transition Program at UPMC Children’s Hospital, call 412-692-6862.