For an estimated 18 million people in the United States, diabetes is a part of everyday life.
Jane Dickinson, the director of the Diabetes Education Program, is one of those people.
For the past 29 years, the certified diabetes educator and registered nurse, has learned firsthand what is needed to manage the disease in the course of her everyday life.
"For me, diabetes education is not about lecturing; it's not about telling people what they have to do," Dickinson said. "It's their disease and they have to make their own choices. I'm here to provide information and to offer support."
Since March 2000, she has used her own experience and her medical training to help Routt County resident with type 1 and type 2 diabetes through Yampa Valley Medical Center's Diabetes Education Program.
The program's goals are to improve the overall health of people with diabetes by giving them the ability to take better care of themselves, and by providing the knowledge and skills necessary to allow them to make informed choices, to facilitate self-directed behavior changes and to reduce the risk of complications of diabetes.
The program also works to improve health and prevent diabetes onset in the general public by increasing awareness, knowledge and understanding of diabetes.
Dickenson and dietitian Pam Wooster handle most of the program's hands-on work, which includes nearly 300 residents of Routt County, who have been guides to the program through their physicians. Dr. Kevin Borgerding acts as the medical advisor for the program.
In most cases, insurance providers will cover the cost of the individual and group diabetes education sessions.
The program is recognized by the American Diabetes Association and Medicare will reimburse for certain amount of education as well. The program teaches patients the basics of diabetes management, which includes a healthy meal plan, exercising, taking medications if prescribed, checking blood glucose levels regularly and managing stress.
The program also offers many educational opportunities that are free to the participants including discussion groups, a quarterly newsletter and other community events.
The educational program also offers many free opportunities including quarterly meetings, a diabetes exhibit that showcases the latest in treatment and monitoring, and many other events designed to spread awareness and education about the disease. But the program isn't just for people who have type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Dickinson said many of the people who take part are family members of friends of those dealing with the side effects of the disease.
There are two types of diabetes that effect about 6 percent of the U.S. population.
Type 1, formally referred to as juvenile diabetes, is an autoimmune disorder that typically is diagnosed in children.
"We still don't know the exact cause, but for whatever reason the body turns on itself and kills the cells that produce insulin," Dickinson said.
Insulin is a hormone that triggers the release of sugars from the blood stream into the cells where it can be used by the body to produce energy. People with type 1 diabetes must take daily injections or use an insulin pump (a device which releases insulin into the body at a set rate), in order to survive.
Type 2 diabetes is far more common and represents about 70 percent of Americans who suffer from the disease. With this disorder, the body produces insulin but the receptors on the cells that carry glucose to make energy become insulin resistant.
In some cases, the body produces more insulin to compensate and eventually burn the pancreas (the organ responsible for producing insulin). Because the cells are producing less energy the liver compensates by releasing more glucose into the blood stream causing blood sugar levels to rise even higher.
The disease is most common in overweight people, but Dickinson said type 2 diabetes is on the rise overall.
The disease used to be referred to as adult-onset diabetes, but because of the increase of younger people being diagnosed with the disease medical professionals no longer refer to type 2 that way.
Dickinson said the disease can be found in adults but is on the rise in children and adolescents. Many times the disease can be managed through diet, and medication.
Dickinson said that type 2 diabetes is a progressive disease that should not be ignored. Through aggressive treatment many people can lessen or avoid the long-term impacts of the disease.
She said that 40 percent of the people who are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes end up on insulin.
"People with diabetes should not be afraid of insulin," Dickinson said. "Many times it's the best form of treatment."
Unfortunately, Dickinson said insulin gets a bad rap among many people with type 2 diabetes. She said people think that if they don't take insulin, then they don't have the disease.
The truth is that many people live with the disease never really knowing that they have it. Without this knowledge they could not take steps to avoid the often life threatening effects -- such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stokes and blindness -- that accompany diabetes. She also insists that there is no such thing as borderline diabetes.
"The message is that you don't have to do anything," Dickinson said
Instead medical professional now refer to patients with blood glucose levels of 111 to 125 as pre-diabetic.
Dickinson said education is the cornerstone of diabetes management and that the role of the Diabetes Education Program is to provide knowledge to as many people as possible in the community. "Many times people expect a health care professional to have the information and to tell them what to do to treat their disease. We are not going to tell people what they have to do, but we will make suggestions that will help them live better and live longer."