By Donna Itzstein
Pharmacist and Credentialled Diabetes
Responsibility for a pet has been found to help adolescents
achieve healthier blood glucose levels, a US study has found.
Living with type 1 diabetes is a constant challenge. The
peak age group of diagnosis in 2017 was 10-19 years according to
the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (1).
The National Diabetes Services Scheme Data report for September
2019 states almost 8,000 people with type 1 diabetes were aged 15
years or under as of December 2019 (2).
Adolescence is a vulnerable stage of life to manage living with
diabetes. Adolescence usually comes with an increase in
insulin resistance and therefore an increase in insulin
requirements. It can be a time of rebellion, risk taking, poor
self-esteem and social pressure.
All these factors may contribute to less than ideal management
Associating medication use with activities or events has been
shown to improve use.
The regular care of a pet involves repetitive, predictable
activities such as feeding, walking, and grooming. These activities
are usually enjoyable for the pet owner. A study carried out in the
USA has linked blood glucose monitoring and caregiver communication
with the structured care of a pet fish.
Twenty-eight adolescents aged 10 to 17 years, with an HbA1c
greater than 8.5%, and their caregivers participated in the
Sixteen adolescents were given a fish tank and accessories and a
gift card to buy a fish.
Their instructions were to record their blood glucose levels
morning and evening at the same time as feeding the fish. Once a
week they were asked to replace one quarter of the tank's water and
immediately review their monitoring logs with their caregiver.
Before and after the study the adolescents' HbA1c results were
recorded. After three months the adolescents with the pet fish had
a reduction in HbA1c of 0.5%.
The reduction was greater in the younger group aged 10-13 years
(1.5%). The other adolescents not given a fish showed an increase
in HbA1c over the same period of 0.8%. (3)
This is a very interesting approach to helping teens and their
families cope with the struggles during this difficult time.