Preparing Your Child to Manage Their Diabetes at College

DIABETES CARE|Mar.20, 2019


TWEET THIS: Heading to college can be an exciting time for a young adult. Here's how to make sure diabetes management is part of your child's plan. #healthtech

When your child leaves for college, it's likely that this will be the first time your teen will live independently, and it's normal for everyone to worry a little. There's a lot for any college-bound kid to adjust to beyond rigorous classes and a new social environment.

For students living with diabetes, acclimate to managing their care without your day-to-day support can feel daunting.

Creating a diabetes management plan — one that includes helpful technology, continuous glucose monitoring and a little communication — can ease this transition. Here's how to get started.

Create a Diabetes Management Plan

Before moving day, you and your child should meet with their doctor to confirm an appropriate diabetes management plan. Your doctor can provide insight into the supplies, medications and treatment options that will mesh best with campus life.

Determine who will provide medical services if your child is going to school far away and can't regularly consult with their normal doctor. The doctor can help set up an initial appointment at the on-campus clinic and discuss ongoing care with the campus physician. Be sure to ask the doctor to supply your child with two copies of their medical records: one for your child to keep, and one to give to the on-campus health facility.

You and your student should walk away from this visit feeling comfortable and prepared with a diabetes management plan for college.

Prepare Medical Supplies Ahead of Time

As you prep for school, ensure that your child has organized all the supplies they need to manage their diabetes in one bag. This can include, but is not limited to:

  • A blood glucose meter.

  • Monitoring strips.

  • Alcohol wipes.

  • Any necessary medication or insulin.

  • An insulin pump or syringes.

  • Ketone strips.

  • Glucose tablets.

  • A sharps container.

  • A medical ID bracelet.

  • A list of emergency contact numbers.

Having a bag of medical supplies will help your teen — and your whole family — stave off at-school stress.

Explore New Technologies

There are several ways that technology can help your teen manage their diabetes at college. Most young adults these days have a smartphone; if your child does, they can choose from a number of apps to track their meals, blood sugar and other health-related data. They can share the information these apps collect with you and their doctor.

To further ease your child's lifestyle transition, talk to their doctor about continuous glucose monitoring devices. Because they don't involve fingersticks1, these devices make blood sugar monitoring easier, more sanitary and much less strenuous — which can make a huge difference to your child's stress levels as they rush between classes and campus activities.

Find Diabetes-Friendly Dining Options

Many college students don't follow the healthiest of eating plans.

Your child may have a hard time, too, what with the late-night snacking during study sessions and trying to eat cheaply on a tight budget. Luckily, there are a few ways you can help prepare them to stick to a diabetes-friendly eating plan.

Make sure that your child has access to food at all hours in case they need to manage low blood sugar. Pack bulk boxes of healthy snacks for them to keep in their dorm room. Consider buying them a minifridge if their dorm doesn't provide one.

Request cafeteria menus or ask to meet with the cafeteria dietician ahead of time to plan appropriate meals with your child. Many dining halls will provide nutrition information, which helps make meal planning easier for students with diabetes.

Have a Conversation About Alcohol

Alcohol is also a concern for some college students. That's especially true for students with diabetes. The symptoms of intoxication and hypoglycemia can be quite similar, other students might have a hard time telling the conditions apart. Alcohol can also cause drops in blood sugar, particularly when consumed without food.

Have an honest conversation with your child about alcohol use before school begins. Focus on arming them with information about how alcohol affects their condition so that they can make healthy choices.

On-Campus Support Systems

The two keys to successful diabetes management at college are preparation and communication. Your child should disclose as much relevant information as they're comfortable with to their roommates and residence hall advisers so that the people living with your child know what to do if they find your child unresponsive.

Most U.S. college campuses offer disability services to address student concerns regarding disabilities and accommodations. Make sure that your child knows whether these services apply to students living with diabetes.

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) put together a document called "Going to College with Diabetes: A Self Advocacy Guide for Students," and it can be a handy, helpful resource. The tips above and the ADA guide are a great place to start when preparing your child for their exciting adventure.

1Fingersticks are required for treatment decisions when you see Check Blood Glucose symbol, when symptoms do not match system readings, when you suspect readings may be inaccurate, or when you experience symptoms that may be due to high or low blood glucose.