This Is NOT Your Grandma’s Diabetes
Last updated: December 2021
Type 2 diabetes (T2D) can run through family lines. That's why, as a nurse Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES), my first questions to those newly diagnosed are, "Does diabetes run in your family?" and, "what have you seen/experienced from family members with diabetes?"
Diabetes and the family experience
Family experiences often impact someone's attitude towards a type 2 diabetes diagnosis. I've there to be two common reactions to a diagnosis. One is a strong desire to avoid any of the struggles family members experienced. Another is a hopeless feeling that their diabetes destiny is already determined, no matter their actions.
Diabetes science and care has evolved over time
Many people don't realize that their diabetes journey will likely be very different from their older family members. Here are three reasons why the diabetes journey has changed over the years:
Advances in research and science
We now understand more about T2D. In the 1990s, research about diabetes pathophysiology, the misfires that happen in the body and cause diabetes, was explored. Early research showed three body parts, the liver, pancreas, and muscles, were "misfiring." This misfiring leads to high sugar levels in the blood.
As time went on, research in the 2000s found as many as eight "misfires" by the body. By 2016, those eight had grown into eleven. Eleven organs and tissues affect the body's ability to keep blood sugars in a healthy range. Who knows what the next 10-20 years will uncover?
For now, these eleven factors have changed how we study and describe diabetes. It's also changed how medications are researched and used. The more we learn about diabetes, the better the care and treatment options.1,2
Better treatment and medication
Today, better and more effective medications exist to treat type 2 diabetes. Before the 1950s, there weren't pills to treat diabetes. Back then the treatments for diabetes were insulin, home remedies, activity, and diet plans. Even then, insulin wasn't as reliable as it is today.
Until the 1980s, insulin production still required the use of animal pancreases. Now, there are several medications available. These modern medications have amazing benefits, such as protecting the heart and kidneys, which are areas of the body highly targeted by unhealthy blood sugars.
Insulin options copy the body's normal insulin patterns much more closely. And, low blood sugars and weight gain are side effects of the past, since the newer meds don't have these risks.3
Improvements in testing and technology
An A1c result and glucometers that require very little blood are things many take for granted now. But an A1c wasn't a part of regular diabetes care until the 1970s to 1980s. Before glucometers, urine was used to measure sugar levels in the body. Urine wasn't nearly as accurate as measuring blood levels.
It took until the 1980s before glucometers became available at home. Even then, early glucometers were chunky and required a large amount of blood compared to today.
Now we have other technologies, such as continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) and closed-loop systems (an insulin pump that changes doses based on CGM readings) that give more information and support but require much less work from the person with diabetes.4,5
Embark on your unique type 2 diabetes journey
Your diabetes journey will be different for so many other reasons as well. Older generations didn't face as many cost and insurance barriers as you might today. I encourage you to embrace your family's experiences, hear their stories, and then write your own. This is not your Grandma's diabetes.
Do you find it difficult to "eat right" and stick to a nutrition plan?