Washington D.C. Convention Center
Inside a great maze of learning
AADE President opens the event
Elizabeth Edwards key-note speaker
Shuttle buses everywhere
AADE bookstore, upper right corner
The great Exhibition Hall
As promised, here’s my brief report of the 35th annual conference of theAmerican Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE). 4,000 educators from around the U.S. and a sprinkling from outside the U.S. convened at the Convention Center in Washington D.C. for four days of lectures to earn credits and learn the latest news regarding drugs, devices and behavioral practices to better help their patients. They are an impassioned group truly wanting to make a difference. Having a concern of my own, why I’m getting red dots every time I inject, each educator I asked went right to work examining the problem and investigating my behavior truly wanting to help, and yes, I did take advantage of my circumstances. Unfortunately, diabetes educators are dwindling in number each year while patients are increasing, making their work ever-more demanding.
My husband and I descended upon Washington together both eager to hear what educators are learning, teaching, what’s new in the field and how patients are being served and responding. I also wanted to thank, in person, the many experts who were speaking there and have been helping me with the book I’m currently writing, debunking diabetes myths. Arriving the night before the conference began our first self-assigned task was to find fruit for the husband’s next morning breakfast. Within a 20 block radius of downtown D.C. there is not a banana, orange or apple to be had. Trust me, I know; I asked shopkeepers, restauranteurs, passers-by and the hotel concierge. The closest we came was Tang, a powdered orange juice like drink at a CVS drugstore, but alas, not a single piece of fruit. I found it remarkable that blocks away 4,000 people had convened to learn how to help patients improve their diet and eating habits, and yet in our nation’s capital I could not find a piece of fruit. Proving once again diabetes is not just a medical issue, not just a behavioral issue, but also a systemic issue: our society’s infrastructure does not support practicing the healthy behaviors we hear about daily on the morning news.
But, forgive me, I digress. The conference was opened by Amparo Gonzalez, current president of the AADE. Her lilting accent welcomed everyone in the huge basement hall where I sat amid a sea of largely Caucasian, middle-aged women, with perhaps one man to every 50 women. Elizabeth Edwards, the key-note speaker, gave an hour long, impassioned address sharing her own experience of living with cancer and built a bridge between all of us who live with a chronic illness. She was real, warm, bright, funny, engaging, shared her darker days with cancer and spent the last 15 minutes comparing Senators McCain and Obama’s health plans. While she promised to be impartial, which I believe she was, she gave both plans low grades letting us know neither is as workable as either politician would have us believe. I left concerned that our already broken health care system is not getting fixed anytime soon. Unfortunately, two days later her broken marriage was being aired on the Convention Center’s TV monitors every few feet.
Here’s what educators are learning:
- New medicines, largely that deal with type 2 diabetes, and more meds on the horizon indicate diabetes is not merely an insulin problem, gastric hormones are getting more and more attention.
- The artificial pancreas is inching ever forward in trials largely due to the efforts of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
- Diabetes educators’ largest hurdle is getting patients to change behaviors: adopt healthier eating habits and exercise.
- Educators’ second biggest hurdle is once they’ve gotten patients to adopt healthier behaviors, getting them to sustain them. The drop off seems to occur 4-6 weeks later.
- Educators are being encouraged to shift from being “teachers” instructing patients to being “coaches” partnering with patients.
- “Peers for Progress” is a new AADE initiative getting underway to utilize patient mentors. We knew it was coming, too many patients for too few educators.
- Personal note: My book, The ABCs Of Loving Yourself With Diabetes, initially declined by the AADE bookstore because it wasn’t deemed something educators would find useful, sold out in the first few days.
Most educators I spoke with find trying to change patients’ behavior difficult and challenging, yet derive enormous fulfillment when they can help a patient succeed. As one told me, “If I can really make a difference for just 10% of my patients, I’m so happy.” I think they are soldiers, every one of them always on active duty. In truth, I’m surprised there isn’t a higher burn-out rate amongst educators.