Manitoba must make diabetes management a priority


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More than 200,000 people across Manitoba are estimated to be living with diabetes. It can impact well-being on so many levels, from diet to heart and even mental health.

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More than 200,000 people across Manitoba are estimated to be living with diabetes. It can impact well-being on so many levels, from diet to heart and even mental health.

The cruel reality is: the older you are, the more likely you are to have diabetes.

There is no question Manitoba’s population is aging, with 15 per cent of people in the province now over 65, greatly increasing their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes can be complex and challenging to manage — but with technology, it is getting easier. However, too many older Manitobans are worried about accessing the best available supports to manage their diabetes.

The Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP) believes a valuable tool to help older Manitobans and, indeed, anyone in the province who has diabetes, is flash glucose monitoring.

Why? Because for individuals living with diabetes, measuring their glucose levels is vital to avoid serious — or even life-threatening — health complications. For years, people with diabetes had to measure their blood glucose with routine finger-prick testing several times a day. Unfortunately, many still do.

Despite the fact that technology has advanced dramatically, Manitoba’s health-care coverage hasn’t kept up. In last year’s budget, the provincial government recommitted to developing a Diabetes Action Plan, but has yet to announce it. And still, the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes, particularly among seniors, continues to rise.

The available technology can be life-changing. Flash glucose monitoring provides glucose readings and trends through a small sensor worn on the back of the upper arm and is scanned with a reader or compatible smartphone, eliminating the need for painful routine finger-pricks.

People can see in real time how their lifestyle, diet, medication and activity affect their glucose levels. This, in turn, empowers those with diabetes to make timely self-management decisions.

For seniors, this can make a critical difference. The consequences of a moderate-to-severe hypoglycemic episode in older people can include a fall and injury, seizure or coma, or a cardiovascular event.

A flash glucose monitor can also connect someone with diabetes to their health-care provider or loved one, enabling remote access to critical data that helps optimize management of diabetes. This innovation makes virtual-care appointments more productive, particularly for those in rural areas.

The technology has proven impact on health outcomes but access to it remains unequal across Canada. For example, if you’re a senior with Type 2 diabetes living in Kenora, Ont., you would have provincial coverage for flash glucose monitoring. If you live in Winnipeg, you’d be forced to pay out of pocket.

The personal economic cost associated with diabetes is enormous. Manitobans pay anywhere from $800 to $6,200 out of pocket to manage their diabetes. For many, the ability to properly manage their own treatment is affected by cost.

According to Diabetes Canada, the majority of Canadians with diabetes pay more than three per cent of their income for prescribed medications, devices and supplies.

Meanwhile, the direct health-system costs of Manitobans living with diabetes are estimated at $152 million last year. People with diabetes are more than three times more likely to be hospitalized with cardiovascular disease, 12 times more likely to be hospitalized with end-stage renal disease, and almost 20 times more likely to be hospitalized for a non-traumatic lower-limb amputation, compared with the general population.

Against the backdrop of increased federal health funding for provinces, intended to relieve pressure on hospitals and improve access to care, Manitoba should not take the impact of this kind of technology for granted.

Diabetes is now one of the most common chronic diseases affecting people living in Canada. Provincial governments must seize the opportunity to take a clear-eyed look at every proven option that will help people better manage their diabetes in community, live healthier lives and prevent unnecessary hospitalization.

CARP is eager to see the provincial government in Manitoba make diabetes management more of a priority. Ensuring that flash glucose-monitoring technology is available for all Manitobans living with diabetes, regardless of their age or their type of diabetes, would be proof the government is committed to taking the next step towards better diabetes management for seniors in the province.

All Manitobans deserve to live happier, healthier lives. It’s time for solutions.

Bill VanGorder is chief operating officer of the national office of CARP — A New Vision of Aging, an advocacy association for older Canadians.

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