Diabetes care: Take two betta fish and call me in a week
Here’s my latest article on McKnight’s Long-Term Care News:
More than 25% of the US population over the age of 65 years has diabetes1 and the numbers are far higher for those in long-term care. (Approximately one third of nursing home residents have diabetes.2)
Diabetics often need to track their blood sugar level multiple times daily and administer medication. Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to a host of medical problems, including heart disease, neuropathy, and impaired vision and falls, and can result in hospitalizations and rehospitalizations.
While guidelines suggest that elders with comorbid health problems need less intensive glucose control than younger healthier people (who are more likely to benefit from years of strict control), many residents in our communities still need to keep track of their blood sugar daily.
We can borrow an idea from a recent study of children with diabetes to help empower our elders toward better self-care in our senior communities and more successful transitions home from skilled nursing care.
In an effort to test pairing twice daily glucose checks with pet care, researcher Olga T. Gupta, MD gave betta fish and tanks to children ages 10 to 17 years. The children were asked to feed their fish and check their blood sugar at the same time, and to review their glucose logs with their parents when they cleaned the fish tank each week. The results of this pilot study showed a small but significant improvement in glucose control.
We can adapt this study to seniors and simultaneously take advantage of the health benefits of pet ownership. Caring for a pet has been linked to fewer doctor visits, improvement in activities of daily living, reduced depression and better heart health, among other rewards. 3
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