Learning and Diabetes: A vicious circle

Learning and Diabetes

Rowan Hillsoncalculator

Practical Diabetes Nov/Dec 16

Only 32% of type one diabetics and 78% of type two diabetics are currently offered structural education in England. Even then, not all will attend. Will it have any positive long term effects for those who do? Many issues affect learning. This article discusses some of them.

Literacy and numeracy

In England in 2011, 15% of the population aged 16-65 had the learning that is expected of an eleven year old child. This is considered “functionally illiterate” by the National Literacy Trust.  Although they would not be able to pass an English GCE, they can read simple texts on familiar topics. More than 50,000 UK diabetics are at this basic level of reading ability.

Numeracy problems are higher with 24% of adults function at the same level as your average eleven year old. Testing diabetics shows that numeracy and literacy are linked and that blood sugar control is better in those with better numeracy and literacy. This is not surprising since so many tasks need these skills.

Weighing foods and estimating portion sizes

Addition

Converting between metric and imperial systems

Multiplying and dividing

Using decimals

Recognising and understanding fractions

Working with ratios, proportions and percentages

Readability

Arial 12 point font, upper and lower case, on white or off white backgrounds, using short words, short sentences and short paragraphs all improve readability.

Health Literacy

Health literacy includes reading, writing, numeracy, listening, speaking and understanding.

In the type two diabetes population, lower health literacy was significantly associated with less knowledge of diabetes, poorer glucose self- management, less exercise and more smoking.

In the USA people understood food labels better if they had higher income and education.  Overall 31% gave the wrong answer to food label questions. Many diabetics have problems with misinterpreting glucose meter readings, miscalculating carbohydrate intake and medication doses.

Lower scores were associated with being older, non-white, fewer years in education, lower income and lower literacy and numeracy scores.

When an internet based patient system was offered, those with limited health literacy were less likely to sign in and had more difficulty navigating the system.

Cognitive impairment

Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia and other cognitive impairments are more likely in diabetics particularly those with type two diabetes. A longer duration of diabetes and a younger age of onset were associated with cognitive impairment.

Hyperglycaemia

High blood sugars can cause poor concentration, tension, irritability, restlessness and agitation. In experiments, high blood sugar induced delayed information processing, poorer working memory, and impaired attention.

In five to eighteen year olds with new type one diabetes most neuropsychological tests showed considerable impairment.  One year post diagnosis, dominant hand reaction time was worse in those with poor glycaemic control.

Long term, type ones diagnosed before the age of 18 had five times the risk of cognitive impairment compared to their non- diabetic counterparts. Chronic hyperglycaemia increased the risk.

Hypoglycaemia

Most friends and relatives can recognise if someone well known to them has a low blood sugar, often faster than the individual. Cognitive performance drops at blood sugars of 2.6-3 in non- diabetic subjects.  In type one children, those who had recurrent severe hypoglycaemia had more impaired memory and learning.

Psychological issues

Both depression and anxiety can impair test performance. Both of these and other mental illnesses are more common in diabetics.

Sensory and motor problems

Visual impairment and deafness can make some learning methods difficult.

Conclusion

We all learn in different ways. A substantial proportion of the population has low literacy and numeracy. This impairs health literacy which impairs diabetes knowledge for self -care. Poor numeracy may worsen blood sugar control. Clearly written, easily readable information helps everyone. Having diabetes increases the risk of cognitive impairment both at diagnosis and long term. Both high and low blood sugars affect current ability to learn and may have long term adverse effects on cognition.

Before teaching diabetics it is worth having a think about any difficulties your patient could be having assimilating the learning. If so, how can you tailor your teaching to their needs?

The BBC has adult learning resources at http://www.bbc.co.uk/learning/adults/

 

 

8 thoughts on “Learning and Diabetes: A vicious circle”

  1. I am told I am an experiential learner. Meaning I learn by failing many times over. I tend to not read instructions and I do not mind failing over and over until I get it right. But once i get it right, I have it. Yes, finding no is a thing. I find it a lot I am afraid.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, what they are taught is generally high carb, avoid fat and take more drugs. So even if they do understand, what they understand makes things worse.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The arithmetical technique I use all the time is cross multiplication. It is how you sort out how many carbs are in the portion of something you have got compared to what it says on the packet. I go into this a lot in the How to course carb counting section, but if you haven’t got to grips with this in school, as happens, it is difficult to apply it to your every day situation with diabetes. I never really got any good at long division. I always wondered if I had been off when it was taught, but having spoke to many people, most people feel the same way.

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  4. A substantial proportion of the population has low literacy and numeracy. This impairs health literacy which impairs diabetes knowledge for self -care. Poor numeracy may worsen blood sugar control.

    Like

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