“Diabetes is a disease that you do not see from the outside,” said Kayla O’Connell, who lives with type 1 diabetes and is a sales support associate at Medtronic, during a session at Benefits Canada‘s 2022 Chronic Disease at Work event in February.

About 10 per cent of Canadians with diabetes have type 1, while 90 per cent have type 2, said Richard Jonkers, principal medical science advisor at Medtronic, during the same session. With type 1 diabetes, the pancreas can’t produce insulin and the primary ways to get it into the body are multiple daily injections with syringes or insulin pens or through an insulin pump.

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Hyperglycemia — or high blood sugar — can result in long-term complications, he noted, whereas hypoglycemia — or low blood sugar — can have very immediate effects and cause confusion and cognitive impairments. Dangerously low blood sugar can lead to seizure, coma or even death.

Forty-two different factors can affect blood glucose, with the same factors potentially impacting a person differently from one day to the next. It’s very difficult to achieve a diabetes target of A1C of seven per cent or less, said Jonkers. Despite intensive management, about 70 per cent of people diagnosed with type 1 diabetes can’t reach that target.

Diabetes technology, such as a hybrid closed loop system, can work like cruise control to maintain a stable speed. This technology monitors glucose levels 24/7, predicting when the glucose concentration is going up or down and communicating with the insulin pump to adapt insulin delivery accordingly.

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Jonkers noted a closed loop system is suitable for every person with type 1 diabetes, but is particularly relevant for individuals who are struggling with hypoglycemia or low glucose levels or those who have a fear of going low because they’ll be automatically notified when their levels drop. Evidence has also shown that this technology can be beneficial for people with type 2 diabetes who use insulin.

The technology helps people living with diabetes free up some time to think about something else, rather than continuously thinking about and managing their diabetes. When living with diabetes, said O’Connell, “you’re making a lot of decisions . . . , you’re having to adjust your insulin, you’re having to decide what meals you are going to have, you’re having to carb count.”

Diabetes technology helped build up her confidence in living with diabetes, she said. “I can do hard things. I do need some help, which is the technology. I can go to bed at night, sleep soundly and prevent some of those highs and lows and achieve things that I had never planned.”

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According to Jonkers, diabetes technology will continue to play a significant role in diabetes care until a cure is found. Innovation is continuing and will make devices easier to use and become more like how we use smartphones.

Workplace support for plan members living with diabetes is important as well, he said, noting he recommends workplace accommodations and workplace programs such as education and awareness to prevent diabetes stigma. He also recommended that plan sponsors ensure their benefits plan allows access to insulin pump and continuous glucose monitoring technology.

Read more coverage of the 2022 Chronic Disease at Work conference.