Photo: Fred Lopez
A local club helps people manage diabetes, the seventh-leading cause of death in the U.S.
Dick Bright has no feeling in his feet when he takes his first step after exiting an automobile or golf cart. He endures occasional shooting pains in his fingers. And the excruciating toe pain around midnight can ruin a good night’s sleep.
“It feels like someone is taking a pair of pliers and squeezing my toe,” he says.
Dick, a resident of The Villages, was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes 30 years ago. He suffers diabetic neuropathy in his hands and feet.
For him, managing the disease is as much a part of life as eating and sleeping. Four times a week, he pricks his finger, drops the blood on a test strip, and runs it through a blood glucose monitor to check his blood-sugar level. He also makes annual visits to medical specialists who examine his eyes, liver, kidneys, and heart.
If ignored or unchecked, the disease may have a debilitating effect on his health. Fortunately for him, the wealth of knowledge he has accumulated about diabetes helps him control blood-sugar levels and live an active lifestyle. He swims 20 laps daily and plays golf four times a week.
Much of that knowledge, he says, comes from involvement with the Diabetic Community Support Club, a Villages-based group that allows diabetics and caregivers to ask questions, exchange knowledge, and share experiences.
The 250-member club meets the first Thursday every month from 1-3pm at Savannah Center, 1545 Buena Vista Blvd.
“Our two goals are education and support,” says Dick, who has been president of the club since 2014. “Knowledge is very important in fighting this disease, and that’s why having support groups such as ours is a tremendous benefit.”
Club members run the gamut—from Type 1 diabetics and Type 2 diabetics to pre-diabetics and caregivers. The first hour is spent listening to a medical professional discuss a particular health issue related to diabetes. In the past, guest speakers included podiatrists, endocrinologists, neurologists, ophthalmologists, and dietitians. During the second hour, members divide into groups of six and have roundtable discussions.
Much value comes from those discussions. With a disease like cancer, doctors tell patients where to go and what to do. With diabetes, it’s about self-management skills.
“Having knowledge about the disease may save your life or, at the very least, help improve your quality of life and health significantly,” Dick says. “New members are very comforted by the fact they have others to talk to, and they make connections at the roundtable discussions and call each other with information. Members definitely learn from one another, and when we invite guest speakers, we make sure we are covering every medical aspect of diabetes.”
That need to talk—and more importantly, learn—is vital to slowing the rate of diabetes complications and deaths.
The number of adults worldwide with diabetes quadrupled from 108 million in 1980 to 422 million in 2014, according to a study published in the Lancet, an independent medical journal. Compounding the problem, an estimated 86 million American adults have prediabetes that puts them at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Photo: Fred Lopez
Unfortunately, many do not manage the disease, and others refuse to acknowledge their illness.
“We have caregivers who come to meetings, but the patient they’re caring for does not accompany them,” Dick says. “There is a lot of denial in the diabetes community.”
For those who fail to control their blood-glucose level, diabetes can potentially wreak havoc on every organ in their bodies. Diabetics often experience retinopathy, restricted blood flow, and poor digestion of food. Additionally, diabetics may develop heart disease at a younger age than people without diabetes or endure limb amputation.
That’s precisely why diabetes support groups are valuable. Members gain knowledge, which is a powerful tool in managing the disease. And the friendships forged there are equally beneficial.
“I’ve made a lot of friends by being in this group,” Dick says. “If you’re a social person, you are happy, and if you’re happy, it can have a positive effect on diabetes.”
For more information about the Diabetic Community Support Club, call Dick Bright at 352.751.7599
Diabetes by the numbers (2015 data):
the number of Americans with diabetes
the number of American children and adults with Type 1 diabetes
the number of Americans undiagnosed with the disease
the number of new diabetes diagnoses each year
the number of death certificates in 2015 listing diabetes as an underlying or contributing cause of death
the total direct medical cost of diabetes in 2013