Social support for people with diabetes

New research from the College of Science, Health and Engineering suggests that social support may optimise self-care behaviours in people with diabetes

Diabetes is a chronic metabolic condition that causes high blood glucose levels. More than 400 million people live with diabetes worldwide, including over 1.3 million in Australia.

Self-care behaviours – including diet, exercise, medication and health monitoring – are key to managing diabetes and delaying the onset of devastating long-term complications.

New research, led by Dr Carina Chan in collaboration with the Australian Centre for Behavioural Research in Diabetes (ACBRD), and published in Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice, suggests that social support may optimise self-care behaviours in people with diabetes.

“Social support is the provision of resources from peers, support groups, family and friends,” explains Chan. “Those resources might be psychological (including expressions of comfort and care), social (in the form of shared activities), material (such as financial help), or informational (including offering advice).”

Chan and her team analysed a national diabetes survey and found that social support encouraged self-care behaviour, and was associated with improved glycemic and clinical outcomes.

“Higher levels of social support were linked to increased self-efficacy, or an individual’s belief that they can live successfully with diabetes,” says Chan. “Support was also associated with reduced diabetes distress.”

“Diabetes distress is an individual’s negative emotional response to living with and managing the disease,” says Professor Jane Speight, Director of the ACBRD. “Around one third of people with diabetes experience diabetes distress, so this research is important because it shows a key way in which we can reduce that distress and improve clinical outcomes”.

The research team examined the impact of social support on self-efficacy and diabetes distress for three groups: adults with type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes (non-insulin treated) and type 2 diabetes (insulin treated).

They found that social support was important for every group, but there were variations. “For example, social support that reduced diabetes distress was particularly significant for those managing their diabetes with insulin,” says Chan, “which could be a reflection of a more intensive treatment regimen.”

Chan hopes that targeted programs can be developed to increase social support for people with diabetes.

“By understanding which kinds of social support are most beneficial to whom, we can develop tailored strategies that improve the health and wellbeing of all people with diabetes.”

Read the paper.

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