So much has changed in how people manage type 1 diabetes in just the last few years. Some of these developments have likely fundamentally altered the way you care for your child every day. Others are so rapidly evolving that if you haven’t checked your newsfeed lately, you might not even have heard of them yet. As you think about raising diabetes awareness, how many of these recent advances are you aware of? Take a look back at everything that’s changed in diabetes care in the last 10 years.
Fewer Finger Pricks
Continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) has been around since 1999, but earlier systems were bulky and required numerous finger sticks for calibrations. It took a few years, but by 2010, CGM worked out the kinks. Newer units are sleek and some even eliminate the need for routine glucose meter checks — and finger pricks! Among Americans with type 1 diabetes, CGM use has steadily risen from 6 percent in 2011 to 38 percent in 2018. This year may see that number hit a full half of all people with type 1 in the U.S.!
What it meant for us: “There was a low moment before CGM where I had to go into the other room to cry after my daughter’s blood sugar check because of how many small puncture scars there were all over her fingers. CGM has brought so many good things into her diabetes management, including seeing so many of those little marks start to fade. We still do meter checks with her particular type of CGM, but far fewer.” —Amanda, Ohio, mom of Harper
In 2003, a dog from California named Armstrong became the first diabetes alert dog (D.A.D.) trained to detect low blood sugars. In 2020, trained D.A.D.s provide their special service to thousands of people with diabetes across the U.S. and around the world. Some D.A.D.s even have their own social media accounts! The rise of crowdfunding websites over the past few years has helped many families welcome a D.A.D. into their lives.
What it meant for us: “Type 1 diabetes has always been a lonely experience for our son, because we live in a rural area and no one else he knows close by has T1D. Having a D.A.D. has given him an added tool to help detect lows. Our D.A.D. has also given my son a companion and the feeling that this little furry friend really does understand what he’s going through.” —Val, Texas, mom of Kenneth
The College Diabetes Network (CDN) was founded in 2009 by a college student with T1D who felt isolated and struggled to manage her diabetes while away at school. From that initial support group, CDN has blossomed into a national organization serving thousands of students and their families through a support network across hundreds of college campuses.
What it meant for us: “My daughter was in touch with the chapter of CDN at her college starting from the spring of her senior year of high school. Not only did they help her with transition info about the campus health clinic and even local doctors and pharmacies in the area, but the group members themselves became instant friends as soon as she got there. It is so great that this level of support exists for these kids.” —Karen, Connecticut, mom of Izzy
More Room in Your Bag
Back in the olden days of pre-2010, parents would carry at least one thick paperback book listing carb counts and other nutritional info for common foods. These days, there’s an app for that. Actually, there are several dozen apps for carb counting to choose from. So now with just a few taps and swipes, you can find out exactly what’s in that takeout you’re about to order, making calculating meal boluses even easier.
What it meant for us: “Our son is old enough that I remember using the book to look up all his foods. It was a chore. What I love about all these apps is that they place the tool right in his hands. It’s easy for him to check the carb counts on his food, so he does it. His app even has a little area where his favorite foods are kept, making it even faster.” —Danielle, Texas, mom of Evan
Fewer Curious Looks
Here’s a fun fact: the first insulin pump was invented in 1974 and was the size of a microwave! Today, we might just be living in the golden age of insulin pumps. Mirroring advancements in smartphone technology and design over the past decade, insulin pump and CGM makers have been inspired to continually refine their products to become smaller, sleeker, and more efficient. Once mistaken for pagers and music players, nowadays they’re more likely to be confused with a nicotine patch!
What it meant for us: “All kids carry devices everywhere they go these days… smartphones, tablets, and all the assorted chargers and earbuds and other gadgets. My son’s T1D gear is just another set of screens to them. He loves this feeling of normalcy.” —Angie, California, mom of Asher
The proportion of people with diabetes using insulin pump therapy shot up from 1 percent in the 1990s to over 50 percent in 2017. As many as 60 percent of children with T1D use a pump, with some starting soon after diagnosis. What does this mean for multiple daily injections? For most kids today, they’re the exception and not the rule.
What it meant for us: “The first thing I learned after our son’s diagnosis was how to measure liquid into a needle and stab an orange. I’m a mentor to some parents of newly diagnosed kids, and it’s always interesting to hear about their first ‘diabetes lesson.’ Yes, they are still using oranges and needles, but parents also learn how to use a pump and even CGM right from the very start. The world is changing for these kids.” —Danielle, Texas, mom of Evan
Sometimes a severe low blood sugar happens. And when it does, parents have a choice of emergency treatments. There are options available to treat severe low blood sugar approved by the FDA. Parents can talk to their diabetes care team about which options may be right for their child.
What it meant for us: “We did training with our daughter’s school this year to use the new intra-nasal powder in case of an emergency. Everyone was so excited to see an advancement that would make an emergency situation a little easier to cope with.” —Molly, Florida, mom of Cara
As CGM technology improves parents’ ability to see whether their child’s numbers are trending up or down and make adjustments, it’s helping many parents feel confident enough to get more sleep. Fewer nighttime wakings to check numbers also means kids with T1D get more sleep — which studies show can actually improve their overall diabetes management.
What it meant for us: “All the tools that we have at our disposal, like CGM, are really helping us to make choices that stabilize our daughter’s numbers, especially at bedtime. The CGM has an alarm that will go off if her number drops. Do I still get up to check on her? Yes. But it’s been almost a year since I’ve done an all-nighter.” —Teresa, New York, mom of Anna
When pediatric endocrinologist Steven Ponder, M.D., began using CGM a few years ago to help him manage his own type 1 diabetes, he realized that CGM trend lines gave him the ability to make very small adjustments in his carb intake and insulin amounts to help him stay within the range he wanted. He was suddenly directing his blood sugar patterns — just like a surfer making adjustments so they can ride the ocean waves. Today, “sugar surfers” young and old are following this CGM-driven management style.
What it meant for us: “For my teen, the sugar surfing approach has turned managing T1 into something that feels almost like a video game. It was the lift we needed to get through some bad burnout.” —Amy, Massachusetts, mom of Devon
After years of trials, the FDA approved the first hybrid closed loop insulin delivery system in 2016. Sometimes referred to as an “artificial pancreas,” the system uses software to connect CGM and the user’s pump to automatically deliver insulin based on CGM readings. DIY “looping” that uses open source software is also a growing trend.
[Disclaimer: DIY looping is not approved by the FDA.]
What it meant for us: “Our son has had diabetes since he was 4 years old. He is now 19 and has been using a hybrid closed loop system for just over a year. I think what he has come to understand is that ‘automatic’ does not equal ‘no attention required.’ He is still monitoring, still needs to respond to lows, and still needs to make good choices. But with that said, having a hybrid closed loop system has put T1D into a much smaller box in his life.” —Kelly, California, mom of Liam
Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the “typical” experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring.