How to Live with Type 1 Diabetes at Any Age
There are 1.6 million Americans living with type 1 diabetes, including about 200,000 young people under 20 and 1.4 million adults aged 20 years old and older. While type 1 diabetes is typically diagnosed during childhood or adolescence (it was once referred to as juvenile diabetes), a diagnosis can come at any age
Living with type 1 diabetes is a lifelong journey, and insulin therapy and blood glucose monitoring will remain constant. Some aspects of diabetes management, though, apply only to certain age groups, like coordinating with school staff about a child’s type 1 diabetes care plan or prioritizing heart disease prevention as you get older (more about that later).
Below, we’ve highlighted things to be mindful of with type 1 diabetes treatment for various age groups. This is intended to be a high-level guide to living with type 1 diabetes at any age, and your diabetes care team (or your child’s) will help you develop an individualized treatment plan with recommendations for insulin dosage, blood sugar targets, and blood sugar monitoring frequency.
Type 1 diabetes and children: blood sugar monitoring at school
Individuals with type 1 diabetes are unable to produce any insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas which helps convert sugar, or glucose, into energy. Getting started with insulin therapy is one of the first steps after a type 1 diagnosis, and is an important part of living with type 1 diabetes at any age. Daily insulin therapy, along with blood sugar monitoring and meal planning, allows people with type 1 diabetes to maintain healthy and consistent blood sugar levels.
While the goal of insulin therapy is to keep your blood sugar levels as steady as possible throughout the day, fluctuations are natural. Checking blood sugar levels several times each day allows you to stay within a healthy range. Younger children with type 1 diabetes will need help with both insulin administration and blood sugar monitoring, and during the school day you may need teachers and other school staff to provide support. It’s also important that someone at the school understands how to administer glucagon if your child’s blood sugar falls too low (known as hypoglycemia).
Here are some steps you can take to simplify your child’s treatment needs and make sure you’re prepared for an emergency.
- Communicate with your child’s teacher and/or other school staff before classes begin to make sure they’re aware of your child’s type 1 diabetes diagnosis.
- Discuss daily treatment needs like blood sugar monitoring and insulin therapy as well as potential complications that may arise, like low blood sugar, and how to spot the signs and symptoms.
- You may also want to consider an insulin pump. They have become increasingly common in diabetes treatment, especially with children, due to their convenience, ease of use, and automated timing of insulin injections
The American Diabetes Association has resources that you can share with school staff to help them understand how to support your child’s diabetes care plan. And the JDRF has a back to school checklist, which includes all the information your child’s teachers should know.
Teens and young adults: managing diabetes away from home
Learning how to navigate life with greater independence and less structure as you enter your late teens and twenties often takes on additional importance if you have type 1 diabetes. You may now be responsible for aspects of your own diabetes treatment that parents or other adults previously helped with.
For many young adults living with type 1 diabetes, this transitional period requires learning about the logistical aspects of diabetes care, like filling prescriptions, ordering supplies, and scheduling appointments. And whether you’re living far from home or nearby, it may be time to find a new doctor, as many young adults switch from seeing a pediatrician to an adult healthcare provider around the ages of 18 - 21.
To avoid any gaps in your diabetes treatment, plan ahead and work with your pediatrician and your support system, including your parents or other relatives, to create a plan for finding an adult healthcare provider. Make sure that you also have the information you need to stay on track with your diabetes management, like how to navigate health insurance, or how to use diabetes supplies like a continuous glucose monitoring device (CGM) or insulin pump.
It’s understandable if other challenges related to your diabetes care needs arise for the first time during this stage of life. For many young adults, there’s a learning curve with handling other illnesses when you’re away from home. For example, the flu can become more complicated if you have diabetes, since it may affect your calorie intake, which in turn may affect your blood sugar levels. Once you’ve found a primary care provider, ask them about additional steps to take when you’re sick, like checking your blood sugar levels more frequently or consuming carbohydrate-rich soft food and liquids .
It’s also important to understand how alcohol use can interact with insulin therapy and affect your blood sugar levels. Ask your doctor for recommendations about drinking safely when living with type 1 diabetes, and be honest with them about your alcohol consumption so that they can best address your individual health needs.
You may also benefit from working with a certified diabetes educator during the transition from your teens to adulthood. A diabetes educator is a healthcare professional with extensive knowledge of diabetes who has been certified to coach individuals living with the condition. They can make sure you have all the necessary information to successfully manage your diabetes.
Maintaining a balanced life with type 1 diabetes
It may feel like life has only gotten faster during your late twenties and into your thirties and forties. However, staying on track with your diabetes management is as important as ever — and for some individuals, you may be first learning of your type 1 diabetes diagnosis during this busy time.
A common challenge of living with type 1 diabetes in adulthood is fitting daily treatment needs into a busy schedule. If you work long days in a physical setting, it may feel inconvenient to take insulin and check your blood sugar while on the job. You may find that an insulin pump is a good option for you since you won’t have to worry about remembering the timing of your injections.
Ultimately, deciding how much of your health situation to share with an employer is a personal choice, but at least one person should be prepared to offer support in the event of an emergency if you work on site. Make sure they know the signs of low blood sugar, how to administer emergency glucagon, and where you keep your supplies.
If you are a woman living with type 1 diabetes and considering starting a family, sharing your family planning goals with your primary care physician can help you have a healthy pregnancy. Your A1C levels — your average blood sugar levels over a period of two to three months, which your doctor will check periodically during your regular visits — are even more important in the months before pregnancy. This is because your blood sugar levels can impact the development of your baby’s organs during the first 8 to 12 weeks of your pregnancy.
Ask your doctor to clarify your A1C goals and how long to maintain them before pregnancy. And once you find out you are pregnant, contact your healthcare provider as soon as possible to find out if you need to make any changes to your treatment.
Healthy aging and type 1 diabetes
Your risk for many conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and dementia all increase as you age. When living with type 1 diabetes, preventative care and healthy lifestyle choices are even more important, as many aging-related health risks intersect with potential diabetes-related complications.
Men and women living with type 1 diabetes have a higher risk of developing heart disease than those without the condition. High blood pressure is common in older adults with diabetes, which can lead to a greater risk for strokes and heart attacks and may also affect your vision and kidney function.
It’s important to keep track of your blood pressure and cholesterol levels and follow your doctor’s recommendations for treatment, which may include lifestyle changes and medications. And depending on your overall health, you may need a loved one’s support with managing certain aspects of your diabetes care, like administering insulin and recording blood sugar readings.
Your diabetes care partner for life
Living with diabetes at any age is easier with a reliable pharmacy partner. At Alto, we’re committed to making it as simple as possible to manage your diabetes, with free same-day delivery and medication management tools like reminders and auto refills in our app. And our dedicated diabetes support team is here to ensure that you have all the information you need to follow through on your individualized treatment plan.
Reach out any time via text or phone at 1-800-874-5881, or in-app messaging.
This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.