In a recent study published in the journal The Diabetes Educator, a research team led by Dr. Shiela Strauss, associate professor of nursing and co-director of the Statistics and Data Management Core for NYU’s Colleges of Nursing and Dentistry, in collaboration with a NYU team of researchers, shows that there are different diabetes illness perceptions among adult populations at increased risk for diabetes. The results from the study may help to develop new methods for the education and prevention of diabetes.
“We found that there are differences in the perceptions of those who are at risk for diabetes that depend on the specific characteristics that place them at risk,” said Strauss in a recent news release.
Illness perceptions refer to the cognitive beliefs and representations people hold concerning a condition, and are important self-care behaviors and outcome determinants, as the manner people represent their conditions affect the way they manage their conditions, as well as the progression of the condition.
Using a questionnaire, the researchers assessed in each individual their general knowledge about diabetes and evaluated eight different dimensions of diabetes illness perceptions. Then they tested potential differences in these eight dimensions of diabetes illness perceptions while controlling for participant’s diabetes risk factors.
The results revealed that in comparison to those individuals with a first-degree relative with diabetes, those who did not have this risk factor were less stressed about their risk of diabetes, were less informed about diabetes, and were also less emotional about the possibility of ever being diagnosed with diabetes.
The results also revealed the same trend of differences according to Latino ethnicity. Compared to people with a non-Latino background, people with a Latino background were more worried with the possibility of having diabetes in the future, they know more about the condition and were more emotionally affected about the risk of having the condition.
The researchers also found that compared to those with lower BMI, those who had a BMI equal or higher than 25 kg/m2 felt that diabetes would have a greater impact on their lives if they developed it, and demonstrated a greater understanding of diabetes.
Compared to those with no-racial risk, those from a Native American, black, Pacific Islander or Asian background felt that diabetes would last for less time, that they would have more personal control over diabetes, that treatment would help their illness, and that they had a better understanding of diabetes.
Because diabetes is a progressive disease, understanding illness perceptions is crucial, as Strauss said, “tailoring diabetes education and outreach to an individual’s perceptions of diabetes can maximize self-care behaviors, and reduce adverse outcomes.”
People with pre-diabetes could still be able to reverse the outcomes of their condition, and according to Strauss a good approach is to tailor the diabetes education and outreach so people can change their illness perceptions.
Results from this research suggest that some illness perceptions of diabetes in those individuals at-risk may differ from the illness perceptions of those with diabetes. “It is important for diabetes educators to recognize that these differences exist and to incorporate these differences in their patient education. It’s not one size fits all,” said Strauss.
The study provides important information, which can help to identify people with prediabetes and undetected diabetes. The first step to address the diabetes epidemic is to identify people unaware of their condition. In previous research, the team of researchers revealed that one opportunity to screen for diabetes is at the dentist office. Creative solutions such as these are seen in the scientific community as one way to begin addressing the onset of the disease proactively and reversing the perceptions of diabetes in certain demographics.