10 Tips for College-Bound Students with Diabetes
Going off to college is an exciting time. It’s a rite of passage that tests a young adult’s ability to adapt academically and socially. Of course, this newfound independence comes with its share of anxiety and stress. That is especially true for students who have type 1 diabetes.
Changes to surroundings, routine and support systems can be daunting. However, with some careful coordination, the transition from your home to dorm life can be smooth.
Here are tips I often provide to my patients and their parents as they prepare for college.
1. Tell your new roommate, resident advisor (RA), friends, coaches and professors that you have diabetes. It’s important for those around you to know so they can help you in the event of an emergency. Professors should know that you may need diabetes equipment or snacks while you are in class.
2. Teach your roommate or close friends about diabetes and how they can help you. Educate them about signs of hypoglycemia and how to administer glucagon.
3. Develop an eating routine. College schedules can greatly impact your routine. If your meal times vary too much, you may have difficulty recording and comparing your blood sugar readings. Plan to eat meals at the same times each day. This is easier to do if you maintain a regular sleep schedule.
4. Keep your dorm room stocked. Keep pre-packaged foods in your dorm and replenish the stock regularly. Don’t let your reserves get too low. Also, prepare a sick-day kit with things like fast-acting insulin, saltines, Gatorade and glucagon. Make sure you can easily access the kit.
5. Create a contacts list of important people you may need to reach. This list may include your doctors, college health services, insulin pump vendors, insurance company, pharmacy and a certified diabetes educator.
6. Understand alcohol’s impact. Drinking is more dangerous for people with diabetes and can cause hypoglycemia even after you’ve gone to sleep. Also, symptoms of hypoglycemia and overindulgence of alcohol can be easily confused. For more information, visit the College Diabetes Network web sitecollegediabetesnetwork.org.
7. Register with the disability service and/or campus health office on campus. These resources can advocate for you and help make sure your needs are met. That can include helping reschedule an exam if your blood sugar is low.
8. Find out if your college has a College Diabetes Network (CDN) chapter. These campus clubs are a tremendous resource for students with type 1 diabetes to support each other. If your college lacks a chapter, think about starting your own. Learn more at collegediabetesnetwork.org.
9. Review the American Diabetes Association’s publication Going to College with Diabetes: A Self Advocacy Guide for Students. The guide contains useful information like how to communicate with your college’s disability service office and what your legal rights are as a student with diabetes.
10. Have fun! Enjoy the opportunity ahead of you and make the most of your time in college. Remember that with the right planning and support, having diabetes won’t get in the way of achieving your goals.
Jose Bernardo Quintos, MD, is the director of Hasbro Children’s Diabetes Outpatient Education Center and chief of the Division of Pediatric Endocrinology.