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May 20, 2009 > People with Diabetes Get Support at Monthly Meetings

People with Diabetes Get Support at Monthly Meetings

Washington Hospital Offers Venue for Sharing Challenges and Successes

When Sandy Mertesdorf, RN, was told a family member had diabetes 10 years ago, she decided to learn everything she could about the chronic disease. Now the certified diabetes educator at Washington Hospital helps adults with diabetes get the support and information they need through the hospital's Diabetes Support Group.

"The support group gives people with diabetes the opportunity to share their struggles with others who understand what they are going through," said Mertesdorf, who facilitates the monthly meetings. "They talk about their personal experiences and frustration with the disease as well as what is working for them. They share information with each other on everything from which restaurants are more accommodating to their experience with diabetes medications, understanding food labels, and testing their blood sugar."

The group meets the first Thursday of every month (except July) from 8 to 9 p.m. No registration is needed and the group is open to anyone with diabetes. Family, friends and caregivers of people with diabetes are also welcome to attend.

"We don't take names and people can come and go as they please," Mertesdorf said. "People are free to speak up, or just listen if they want. It's a very comfortable, welcoming situation."

The group offers people with diabetes emotional support while also providing practical tips for self-managing their disease, according to Mertesdorf. "They learn a lot from each other and I'm there to answer questions and make sure they are getting accurate information," she said.

Proper management is critical for keeping diabetes under control and reducing the risk of life-threatening complications, which include heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and blindness. Diabetes occurs when the body does not produce or properly use insulin, which is needed to convert food into energy. It can cause blood sugar levels to rise dangerously high, taking a serious toll on the body.

Overcoming Challenges

People with diabetes can keep their blood sugar levels under control through healthy eating, staying active, monitoring their blood sugar, and taking medications. But that can be very challenging, according to Mertesdorf.

"It's something extra you have to think about," she said. "Some people with diabetes really feel like the disease is an invasion into their life. Trying to adopt a healthy eating pattern and be more active can be difficult. So talking with others who understand what it's like and can maybe even help is very important."

She said they often share their struggles with weight loss and food choices. When they find foods they like that don't raise their blood sugar level, they tell the group about it.

They also talk about some of the complications they may be suffering due to their diabetes, like foot sores and other health issues, which helps to raise awareness about the serious health consequences associated with the chronic disease, according to Mertesdorf.

"Having diabetes can be very stressful," she said. "Some people may have just been diagnosed and they are overwhelmed by the changes they will need to make. It's a relief for them to talk to people who understand. Everyone in the group is very accepting of each other's challenges."

More than a dozen people regularly attend the Diabetes Support Group each month, which meets at the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, Room C, at Washington West, 2500 Mowry Avenue, in Fremont. The group sits in a circle and the discussion is free flowing.

"I make sure everyone who wants to talk gets the opportunity," Mertesdorf said. "Some people just want to listen, and that's fine, too."

Come to the Diabetes Support Group

The next Diabetes Support Group will take place on Thursday, June 4 from 8 to 9 p.m. at the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, located at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont. The group meets the first Thursday of the month after Diabetes Matters, Washington Hospital's free diabetes education class. To learn more about the support group or other diabetes programs offered at Washington Hospital, call (510) 745-6556 or visit www.

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