A look at living with diabetes
MARIETTA — Fatigue, constant hunger and thirst, blurry vision and frequent urination are all common symptoms of a chronic disease that one in three Americans are plagued with: diabetes.
“We get a lot of people who just assume that because their family members have it, that their genetics make them destined for it,” said Nathan Lonidier, dietician and diabetics program coordinator for the Memorial Health System’s Diabetic Education Center. “But there are ways to prevent it. Genetics isn’t the largest risk factor.”
According to the National Institutes of Health, the prevalence of diabetes (type 2 diabetes and type 1 diabetes) will increase by 54 percent to more than 54.9 million Americans between 2015 and 2030; annual deaths attributed to diabetes will climb by 38 percent to 385,800; and total annual medical and societal costs related to diabetes will increase 53 percent to more than $622 billion by 2030.
And with Washington County’s numbers continuing the national trend of increased diagnoses– a growth rate of 56.16 percent between 2004 and 2014 according to the U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention– heading off the disease before it sets in is key.
Type 2 Diabetes occurs when blood glucose levels rise higher than normal, due to the body not using insulin properly or not making insulin at all.
For years it was called adult-onset diabetes, but Lonidier said that’s not really the only population at risk anymore.
“I’ve seen people as young as 12 develop it,” he said.
“That’s not the same as Type 1, which is usually found in children and young people who don’t have any of the other risk factors but develop insulin deficiencies. But Type 2 is preventable, only 10 percent of people with diabetes have Type 1.”
Prevention of the disease includes a diet high in vitamin-rich vegetables and low in sugar and fat as well as getting regular exercise.
“I focus on eliminating sugary drinks and junk foods from clients’ diets,” said Lonidier. “We’re not interested in short-term weight loss, this has to be long term, it has to be them taking ownership of what you can do with your diet and exercise and working with your doctor for your health.”
Lonidier explained that once diagnosed with the chronic disease, while it can be managed, one will carry on the management of the disease for the remainder of life.
“Essentially what diabetes is, it’s when your pancreas, which is responsible for producing insulin, wears out,” said Lonidier. “You can’t restore that, but with weight loss and exercise paired with medication you can help your body respond better to the insulin you do have.”
DEEP, or Diabetic Education Empowerment, are classes offered by the O’Neill Center in Marietta at no cost to seniors at-risk or diagnosed with diabetes.
“It’s a series of classes over six weeks that are two hours each and we talk about how blood sugar levels affect the rest of your body, what foods you can eat and more. It’s all about education,” explained Connie Huntsman, executive director of the center. “A lot of people don’t realize how this can affect the rest of your body and the complications you can develop if you don’t manage your blood sugars.”
Huntsman said those interested in taking the course are invited to call the center to register.
“Our next class is slated for March but with enough interest we will start one in January,” she added.
Local classes and resources are also offered through Buckeye Hills Regional Council, the Washington County Health Department and Memorial Health System.
Rhonda Kaatz, 61, of Marietta, has lived with Type 2 since she was 30.
“You can live with it, it’s not a death sentence,” she said. “But it’s definitely a challenge. Sometimes you’re just so tired.”
Kaatz said she combats the disease with a structured regiment of medication, proper eating and an active lifestyle.
“I come to the O’Neill Center every day I can, I play volleyball, call bingo and I also volunteer with R.S.V.P.,” she said. “Then as long as you count your sweets and don’t over indulge, it’s manageable. After having it for so long I know that if I indulge it will take three or four days to recover.”
For Nancy Jenkins, 67, of Marietta, living with Type 2 for the last decade has changed her meal structure.
“I was tired and I had noticed if I ate anything sweet I would visibly slow down,” she said. “I was a chocoholic and then it would put me to sleep.”
Now Jenkins eats small portions throughout the day, stays away from sweets and makes sure to get in exercise with activities like volleyball and aerobics at the O’Neill Center.
“The older you are when you’re diagnosed, the harder it is to make changes,” she said. “But now I just mind what I can have and can’t. I don’t expect my family or the world to change for me.”
Kaatz said when she was first diagnosed she got education on how to improve her prognosis and still continues to do so.
“I’ve even taken the DEEP class at the center which I hope I can eventually teach,” she said. “It’s important for me since I’ve had it for so long. I want to educate people about what they can do to still live a full life.”
For more information about diabetes, risk factors and prevention visit diabetes.org.