Life is better with diabetes education

Less than 7% of people get diabetes education in the first year after diagnosis, yet education is proven to reduce complications and improve outcomes. A great place to start is this year’s Fall Community Diabetes Update.
September 18, 2019

Karla Norvell realized something was wrong when her hair started falling out and she inadvertently lost 40 pounds in just a few months.

For about seven years, Norvell, 55, had prediabetes blood glucose levels, but she wasn’t able to avert the serious chronic disease. In Aug. 2017, she was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.

“At first there was a lot of worrying and a lot of guilt,” Norvell said. “But now I understand there is more I can do.”

Karla enjoys painting in the park because she's managed her diabetes with diabetes education.
Karla Norvell feels people have the wrong idea that you can’t enjoy the things you love if you have diabetes. But she’s learned it’s about being smart, and learning what that means for you through diabetes education. Photos by Joel Blocker, for UCHealth.

A serious chronic disease

Type 2 diabetes is a condition in which the body stops using insulin properly. There are ways to help prevent it – by making lifestyle changes to control the disease – and gaining more understanding through a diabetes prevention program.

Where can you find diabetes education?

Get a doctor referral and make an appointment at the UCHealth Diabetes and Medical Nutrition Therapy, located in the basement of UCHealth Poudre Valley Hospital. Get more information online here, or call, 970.495.8205.

Sign up for Living Well with Diabetes through UCHealth Community Health Improvement. Call the Aspen Club at 970.495.8560 or Ellen Pihlstrom at 970.495.7509 to register or for more information.

Attend the UCHealth Fall Community Diabetes Update. A half-day education event held each fall. Call 970.495.8777 for more information on next event.

In Colorado Springs, a Community Diabetes Expo will be from 9 a.m. to noon at the UCHealth Memorial Administrative Center, 2420 E. Pikes Peak Ave., on Nov. 9, 2019. The event features education for Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes patients, ‘Ask the Experts’ dietitian booth; A1C, kidney and eye exams; chair massages; glucose monitoring and more. The even will feature presentations by:

  • 9:30 a.m. — Dr. Michael D. Ross, nephrologist; diabetes and kidney
  • 10: 20 a.m. — Dr. Roman Krivochenitser, ophthalmologist; diabetes and the eye
  • 11:10 a.m. — Laura Tonsits, registered dietitian; holiday eating

“People will think that diabetes is basically an eating disorder and if you start eating right you can cure yourself. But it’s not that simple,” said Stacey Fox, a diabetes nurse educator with UCHealth Diabetes and Medical Nutrition Therapy. “It’s a physical and metabolic problem made more difficult by our modern-day lifestyle, where everything is at our fingertips. It is how much your body is making insulin and how it is responding to it. The body just can’t overcome that.”

Through diabetes education, Norvell began to understand how important it was for her to continue to learn about her chronic disease.

“You have to take diabetes seriously,” she said. “It’s a major thing in life — and you’re going to have it your whole life. I’m amazed at how many people are not informed about their diabetes because they have not sought out diabetes education.”

In fact, fewer than 7% of people with Type 2 diabetes receive diabetes education in their first year after diagnosis, Fox said.

“Studies and data show that when someone attends classes or diabetes education, it can result in a .6% reduction in their A1C — that’s just through diabetes education alone,” she said. “Then of course, medication and lifestyle changes can improve that number even more.”

Seeking diabetes education

Last year, Norvell attended the UCHealth Fall Community Diabetes Update. The half-day annual workshop, which occurs on Nov. 2 this year, provides the most recent research and information about diabetes management.

“Living well with diabetes can be a lot of work,” said Susan Stauffer, a registered nurse with UCHealth Diabetes and Medical Nutrition Therapy. “We want to provide our community with the latest information and available tools that can make managing diabetes easier.”

For Norvell, it provided more insight into a disease that is so case-by-case.

“You have to learn what’s right and what works for you,” Norvell said.

“Everyone is different,” Fox continued. “And that’s why committing these few hours to diabetes education really can make the difference long term.”

The event costs $15 for one person and a guest. This year Norvell said she hopes not only to attend again but also to bring a friend with diabetes, so they too can benefit from the information.

“The update was incredible, as it packed in a lot of information, with doctors covering all different specialties, and people asked good questions that I hadn’t thought about before.”

This year’s event

The Nov. 2 event kicks off at 7:30 a.m. Sessions begin at 8 a.m., with the first talk on diabetes and heart health from UCHealth cardiologist Dr. Patrick Green.

“The bottom line is diabetes is a disease that can have a bad effect on blood vessels,” Fox said. “That’s why this year in the diabetes update we are zeroing in on diabetes and heart health, and how important it is to have good blood sugar levels.”

Attend 2019 Fall Community Diabetes Update
8 a.m.-noon, Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019 at UCHealth Poudre Valley Hospital’s Café F (basement), 1024 S. Lemay Ave., Fort Collins. Check-in starts at 7:30 a.m.; Preregistration is required. Sign up online here, or call 970.495.8777.

Then, after a break for attendees to check out vendors and enjoy a snack, the update will continue with exercise physiologist Megan Willis, who will discuss how small steps toward regular exercise can have big benefits.

Participants can ask questions of a dietitian, as well as of the expert panel during the morning’s final session. This year’s panel includes Dr. Richard Millstein, an endocrinologist, registered dietitian Julie Gormley, and podiatrist Evie Plummer.

“The doctors have different specialties, so they’re able to tell you how diabetes affects their areas,” Norvell said. “There are things you would have never thought about. It was so educational.”

Last year Norvell also connected with community dentists and eye-care specialists, knowing that oral and vision care are particularly important for people with diabetes.

And last year, Norvell came away with an added bonus. “I won a huge gift basket with cookbooks and supplies as part of a raffle,” she said.

Continuing diabetes education

Karla enjoys painting in the park because she's managed her diabetes with diabetes education.
Karla Norvell realized that if she wanted to enjoy the things she loved, she needed managing her diabetes the best way possible for her. Diabetes education is proven to help people with diabetes to reduce complications and improve outcomes.

After the 2018 event, Norvell decided she could take an even more active role in managing her diabetes and she joined the UCHealth comprehensive diabetes education program.

This program takes patient education a step further. After she was referred to the program by her doctor, Norvell met one-on-one with a registered nurse. Then she was given the option to attend a two-day comprehensive diabetes education workshop, where she got a deep dive into the physiology of diabetes, myths and facts about the disease, information on short- and long-term complications of uncontrolled diabetes, and tips on how to prevent those complications, as well as medication options.

“We really get the class talking, and people begin to learn from each other,” Fox said. “There are so many different pieces to the puzzle that it’s really up to the person living with diabetes to find the pieces that really connect and work for them.”

The second day is all about nutrition and its impact. Participants learn about food groups and how they influence blood sugar levels.

“I haven’t had to make huge sacrifices,” Norvell said. “People have the wrong idea that you can’t enjoy anything. It’s just about being smart, and you need to learn what that means for you.”

“People feel less overwhelmed and gain more self-confidence when they receive diabetes education,” Fox said. “This is not a ‘Lone Ranger’ disease. The more people you have surrounding you and helping you deal with the issues that arise and problem solve, the better the outcomes.”

About the author

Kati Blocker has always been driven to learn and explore the world around her. And every day, as a writer for UCHealth, Kati meets inspiring people, learns about life-saving technology, and gets to know the amazing people who are saving lives each day. Even better, she gets to share their stories with the world.

As a journalism major at the University of Wyoming, Kati wrote for her college newspaper. She also studied abroad in Swansea, Wales, while simultaneously writing for a Colorado metaphysical newspaper.

After college, Kati was a reporter for the Montrose Daily Press and the Telluride Watch, covering education and health care in rural Colorado, as well as city news and business.

When she's not writing, Kati is creating her own stories with her husband Joel and their two young children.