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Support Groups May Help Older Men Cope With Diabetes

March 24, 1992|KATHLEEN DOHENY

Older diabetics who learn self-care measures and participate in support groups are less depressed, less stressed and rate their quality of life higher than those who don't take such steps, according to a new study.

Researchers tested the three approaches on diabetic men receiving care at a Chicago diabetes clinic. One group attended six weekly sessions to learn about self-care, nutrition and other information about diabetes mellitus. They also participated in a monthly support group for 18 months.

Another group attended the self-care sessions but not the support groups. A third group attended neither.

After a two-year follow-up, the men who learned self-care and attended support sessions did best, says Michael S. Hendryx, a University of Iowa researcher and co-author of the study, just published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The men ranged in age from 57 to 82; most had known of their disorder for about 10 years.

The study is small--32 subjects--but worth noting, Hendryx says, because it is one of a handful of studies focusing on older people with diabetes, a disorder in which the pancreas produces inadequate insulin for carbohydrate metabolism. Some diabetics can control the condition with diet, oral medicine and other measures; others require insulin.

The true value of support groups might spring mostly from the chance for interaction, says Hendryx, who notes that a group leader does not have to be experienced for the session to be valuable. "A lot of the benefit seems to be the chance to talk with each other, just having some rapport," he says.

In previous studies, researchers have found the same value for younger diabetics.

Dr. Fred Wolf, an associate professor of postgraduate medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School, studied 70 teen-agers with diabetes. Those who met regularly with peers had "improved blood sugar control," compared to those who didn't meet with peers, throughout the study's 18-month follow-up period, he says.

"A peer support group lets them see there are others (with diabetes). The sessions were designed to help them problem-solve (not gripe)."

For information on Southern California support groups, call the Los Angeles chapter of the American Diabetes Assn. and ask for program information, (213) 381-3639.

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