A scientist at USC is filling a critical gap in knowledge and care by developing strategies for coping with diabetes that are targeted specifically at young adults.
Young adults with diabetes – those 18 to 25 years of age – have to go through the same adjustment to adulthood as their nondiabetic peers, all while dealing with a disease that involves injections, insulin pumps and frequent blood tests. Diabetes can fluctuate unpredictably as a result of stress, illness, physical activity or changes in schedule.
Management of their diabetes can fall by the wayside, with potentially fatal consequences.
Previous research shows that diabetics 18 to 25 years of age engage in the same risky behaviors that are considered typical of that age group: binge drinking or experimenting with drugs and sex. However, those individuals have a threefold increase in mortality over their nondiabetic peers.
“This is a really critical point in their lives,” said Elizabeth Pyatak, postdoctoral research associate in the Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy at the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC.
Rates of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are on the rise worldwide. Incidence of type 1 diabetes, which Pyatak’s recent research focused on, could double by 2020, according to a recent study.
Choices made at this juncture have the potential to instead put young adults on the path to a long, healthy life, and yet little research and even less outreach has been conducted for young adults with diabetes, Pyatak said.
“For whatever reason, they weren’t getting good guidance, often because they were reluctant to bring up these issues with a health care provider or because when they did, they received advice that was not realistic given their life circumstances,” she said.
Pyatak conducted a series of interviews with young adults with diabetes to understand exactly what led them to neglect the management of their disease and then took it a step further by developing strategies that occupational therapists can use to help.
For example, Pyatak interviewed a young woman who faced challenges specific to being on a college campus. An occupational therapist helped her to devise strategies to avoid becoming hypoglycemic due to her difficulty finding something to eat while hurrying to class.
Pyatak’s research appears in the July/August issue of the American Journal of Occupational Therapy. Her findings will be applied on a larger scale in conjunction with the Let’s Empower and Prepare T1D Transition Clinic, a resource for youth with diabetes at LAC+USC Medical Center.
Pyatak’s research is supported by a KL2 Mentored Research Career Development Award through the Southern California Clinical and Translational Science Institute at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust.