Managing Type 2 Diabetes: Knowing What to Expect

By American Diabetes Association

Diabetes education is a cornerstone of your diabetes management. Why is it so darned important? Because you’re the one who’s taking care of your diabetes most of the time. It’s not your doctor or nurse or dietitian or spouse. The most important person is you. And you can only be effective if you understand what diabetes is and how it affects your body.

At the heart of diabetes education are both coping skills and behaviors that will help you navigate a chronic condition. You don’t get a day off when you have diabetes, so you’ll need all the tools in the box (and beyond) to get you through the days, weeks, and years ahead.

It’s not a one-size-fits-all education because caring for your diabetes is not a one-size-fits-all prescription. Instead, diabetes education should address your current knowledge, cultural preferences, emotional concerns, financial constraints, medical history, and physical limitations.

Diabetes education at diagnosis

When you’re first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, your provider will likely refer you to a diabetes education class. Usually the class takes place over 2 sessions or more, sometimes spread out over several weeks. The class could take place in a hospital or private practice or other location.

During this class you’ll find out what diabetes is and how it affects your body.

You’ll probably learn how to check your blood glucose using a meter and test strips. It may be the first time you’ve ever pricked your own finger for a blood sample. Don’t be nervous. The diabetes educator is on hand to guide you through the step-by-step process.

This initial class is also an ideal time to find out about common complications of diabetes, such as blood vessel and nerve damage, and how to prevent and treat them. Your diabetes educator may talk about different types of medications, including how they work and potential side effects.

Perhaps most important, you’ll learn essential actions for making healthy choices such as eating wholesome, nutritious foods and controlling portions, adding more physical activity to your daily life, and stopping unhealthy behaviors like smoking.

In addition to a class, you may have a follow-up visit with a diabetes educator to discuss individual concerns or develop personalized goals or plans moving forward.

Traditionally, these classes are open to spouses or other loved ones, who are part of your support system. If you think that might be helpful, call ahead and ask if you can bring a family member or friend to your class. Another set of eyes and ears can be beneficial when you’re learning about diabetes care.

Also, you may just meet someone like you at a diabetes education class. After all, you’re in a class with others with type 2 diabetes learning about the same topics and sharing similar concerns and questions. This can be a positive experience. Developing an informal network of friends from a diabetes education class is a perk.

Digital diabetes education is on the horizon, and recently the American Diabetes Association recognized the first digital program. Called One Drop-Experts, it’s a mobile app that offers scalable diabetes education and coaching.

Keeping up with diabetes developments

A diabetes class is not a one-and-done experience. Diabetes education is part of your ongoing management and support. You may go to initial classes after your diagnosis of type 2 diabetes, and then visit a diabetes educator every year to revisit your diabetes management goals and prevent complications. Seek out support for managing your diabetes if you have new complicating factors like depression, changes in dexterity, or totally new medications. Diabetes education and support can help you navigate these changes so that you can cope more effectively and prevent complications.

Finding a class in your area

It used to be that diabetes education typically took place in a formal setting, like a hospital, soon after patients were diagnosed by their provider. This is the typical diabetes education class that many people with type 2 diabetes still experience today.

Yet, you may find that your diabetes education takes a different form. For example, your diabetes care provider’s office may offer its own diabetes education classes. Or you may take a diabetes education class at a medical or assisted-living home where you live. Community health centers and pharmacies also offer diabetes education. You may take part in diabetes education as part of a shared-office visit in which you and several patients have a group appointment. Lastly, you can get diabetes education online or through a video conference.

Diabetes self-management education saves money, too! Studies show that this education reduces hospital admissions and readmissions and healthcare costs because of lower risks of complications from diabetes. And diabetes education classes are usually covered by insurance.

If your diabetes care provider gave you information about a class or the name of a diabetes educator, then you’re one step ahead. You just need to make the call to get started!

However, if you’re uncertain whom to call, then ask your provider or other member of your healthcare team for a referral or recommendation. You can also call your local hospital or community health clinic to find classes in your area.

Both the American Diabetes Association and the American Association of Diabetes Educators have resources and online tools for locating diabetes education programs in your neighborhood. The American Association of Diabetes Educators offers a listing of accredited diabetes education programs run by either organization.

Receiving diabetes education through telehealth may be a good option for people who live in rural parts of the United States, have mobility issues, or don’t have access to classes or educators in their area. Medicare offers tele-education in some areas. Telehealth allows you to connect with a diabetes educator via real-time audio and video.