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Dealing with diabetes

September 06, 2013|By MARIE GILBERT | marieg@herald-mail.com
  • Diabetes is a chronic disease that affects people throughout Washington County. A program will help pre-diabetics try to combat the disease early. Illustration
Kevin G. Gilbert /

After a long day at work, Robert Katos often thinks about surrendering to a few small comforts: a piece of cake, a couple of beers.

He would love to sit in front of the television and skip his nightly walk around the block.

Mostly, he would give anything to take some time off from sticking himself with a needle.

But then his diabetes speaks to him.

His hand begins to tingle from nerve damage and his blood sugar reading is less than desirable.

So, he eats a sensible meal, then heads out for a little exercise.

It’s been five years since Katos, 55, was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, the disease’s most common form.

Since then, he has learned to control his weight and lead a healthier lifestyle — consuming the right foods and staying active.

“Sometimes, it can be a challenge,” the Hagerstown resident said. “Not only do I take insulin, but I keep a log of the results, then adjust my eating habits to the readings. I no longer look at food as food, but (as) sugar and carbohydrates. And I’m no longer a couch potato. I try to move around as much as possible.”

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It takes some work, Katos said, “but diabetes isn’t the end of the world. It’s all about making the right choices.”

Katos is among a large number of local residents who live with diabetes. Some have been diagnosed; others have not.

While Washington County isn’t the epicenter of diabetes, recent statistics provide a jolt.

In 2011, the county had an age-adjusted death rate of 31.0 deaths from diabetes per 100,000 people in the population, according to the Maryland Vital Statistics Report. That’s higher than the state rate of 20.4.

“Diabetes is a serious problem locally, affecting people from all backgrounds and all walks of life,” said Tammy Thornton, a registered dietitian with the Washington County Health Department.

It’s an invisible web that stretches through every workplace and neighborhood, tangled with measurements and choices, willpower and self-restraint.

“Unfortunately,” Thornton said, “it’s a chronic disease that never goes away. But with some discipline, it can be controlled.”

In an effort to improve the quality of life for people with diabetes, Thornton said the Washington County Health Department will be offering a National Diabetes Prevention Program. The evidence-based program is the result of a research study which indicates that Type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed by making modest lifestyle changes through a structured plan. 

“The study demonstrated that weight loss and physical activity lower the risk for Type 2 diabetes by improving the body’s ability to use and process glucose,” Thornton said. 

Thornton said two workshop locations will be offered, including one at the Robert W. Johnson Community Center, beginning Tuesday, Sept. 10, from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.; another at and the Washington County Health Department, Thursday, Sept. 12, from 11 a.m. to noon.

Each workshop will meet once a week for 16 weeks, Thornton said.

“It will involve long-term commitment,” she noted, “but it takes time to make changes.”

The program is grant-funded and free to the public.

Thornton said organizers “are excited about the possibilities of helping people make the necessary changes to prevent diabetes or better control it.”

“We are hoping to involve people at a younger age,” she added, “because, whether it’s arthritis or diabetes, if diagnosed early in life, there is so much you can do to have a healthy future.  Some things you can’t control, but leading a healthy lifestyle is something you can do something about.”

In addition to the National Diabetes Prevention Program, Thornton said the Washington County Living Well Coalition will be sponsoring a Living Well — Chronic Disease Self-Management Workshop, starting Friday, Oct. 18, for six consecutive weeks.

These workshops are designed for people who have a chronic disease, such as diabetes, arthritis, depression and heart disease, she said, and will be held at Robinwood Professional Center.

Thornton said there are several types of diabetes. With Type 1, the pancreas is unable to make insulin because the body’s immune system has destroyed its beta cells.  It accounts for 5 to 10 percent of diagnosed diabetes and develops primarily in children and young adults, although it can occur at any age.

Type 2 diabetes develops when the body does not use insulin properly, she said.  It accounts for 90 to  95 percent of diagnosed cases and develops mostly in adults. However, it is increasingly developing in children and teens and is often associated with obesity.

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