A recurring theme throughout last week’s ADS ADEA meeting in Perth was the need to manage expectations. I think, in general, we do a really lousy job of this in diabetes.

We’re told that can expect to live a ‘normal life’ after a diabetes diagnosis, when that’s not necessarily the truth.

We’re told we can expect to eat whatever they want, when really, the effort that goes into calculating medication doses depending on the nutrient value of our foods is hard and it may be easier for some to actually limit food choices to make things a little easier.

We’re told to expect a cure in five years’ time, when the truth is that a cure is not even on the distant horizon.

We’re told that we can expect new technology to significantly reduce the burden of living with diabetes, when the reality is that sometimes, it’s more – not less – work.

We’re told to expect person-centred care, when, really, our health system, is not designed to cater for the individual needs of people living with diabetes.

We’re told that emerging technology will be fully automated, smart and cure-like, but we are not told that there will still be human-input necessary and that the devices are not as smart as a functioning pancreas.

We’re told that if we keep our A1c below 7% we can avoid complications, and yet, there is no guarantee, and some of us do develop complications despite an A1c regularly hitting that magic number.

We are told that if we count carbs and dose the right amount of insulin at the right time, we can keep our glucose levels in range, often neglecting to be told that there are a lot of other factors at play.

We are told all this, and then, when these expectations are not met, we are told we’ve failed. Or we are disappointed.

Here’s the thing. The tools are actually really great. Our health system here in Australia is mostly terrific. The majority of our HCPs genuinely do want to give us the best care they can. We don’t need to oversell things as much as we do.

Our expectations are being set so realistically high, that it’s impossible to meet them.

So, THIS is what I would like to say about all the things I’ve covered above to help manage expectations:

Your life will be different after a diabetes diagnosis. But that’s okay. Your new normal is going to be different to your old normal, but hopefully, there will be very things that diabetes will prevent you from doing. Acting like a pancreas is not really normal, but you can do it!

Yeah, you can eat whatever you want. But it’s undeniable that certain foods are harder to manage after your pancreas decides to go on strike. Find what works for you – and that can change. But do be prepared for food to become something that can be a little fraught because you may find that some of your most favourite foods are a little difficult to deal with.

Researchers are brilliant and amazing and the advances in diabetes management are actually quite mind blowing, but a cure? We’re nowhere near that yet. Keep up to date with everything and try to mine through it to work out what is relevant for you. Keep getting excited about management and tech advances – but do keep it in perspective. (Also – consider the source. I promise you that the Channel 10 news or Buzzfeed is NOT going to be where you learn that diabetes has been cured forever.)

You are going to have a lot that you will want to know and work through, and possible a variety of healthcare professionals to see. As wonderful as it would be to have someone to coordinate it all for you, you’ll have to put in the leg work to find the right team, the right service and the right people. And then, once you’ve found them, it’s still up to you to direct what you need. Otherwise you might find yourself at the mercy of a system that is not really going deliver exactly what you need to get the most from it.

You may have heard that in the US there is a (hybrid-closed loop) pump/CGM combo. Some are calling it an artificial pancreas. It’s not. The tech is incredible, but it’s not fully automated. It still requires calibration and it still requires operator input. This is not me being negative, because the tech is exciting. It’s me being realistic about the level of automation

No new devices are going to completely remove the load diabetes adds to your life, or your involvement in their operation.  Insulin pumps need buttons pushed; CGMs need calibration, food needs to be considered. Full automation may be the goal, but it’s a while off.

An A1c of 7% or below will indeed reduce your risk of developing diabetes-related complications and there is a lot of evidence to support that. But it doesn’t eliminate the risk. That’s the annoying and somewhat unfair reality of diabetes. Unfortunately, it’s the reality. Obviously, do what you can to manage your diabetes as well as you can. But don’t expect that a number is a guarantee of anything.

Carbs and insulin are only part of the equation. How you’re feeling emotionally, illness such as colds and flus, hormones, nutrients other than just carbs, the phase of the moon (well, maybe not) … all these impact on your numbers. And they change. Don’t expect that there is an equation that will work all the time.

In life, we’re often told to expect the unexpected. But in diabetes, the unexpected is often only that way because what we have been told to expect is unrealistic. If we were told the truth, and provided with realistic expectations from diagnosis – and throughout our diabetes lives, perhaps we wouldn’t feel that we’re constantly falling behind and failing.

Here’s me and my boss talking about expectations in technology. 

Disclosures

Roche Diabetes Australia has covered my travel and two night’s accommodation for my stay in Perth as I am a presenter at the Roche Educators Day (RED). There is no expectation from Roche that I will write anything about the RED, but I expect I will because it’s always such an interesting and enjoyable day!

The remainder of my time in Perth is part of my role at Diabetes Australia.

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