The prevalence of diabetes, along with deaths associated with it in Chautauqua County are higher than statewide statistics, report members of an area Diabetes Task Force that is busy at work trying to help prevent others from becoming a part of the rates.
The task force includes members from area health agencies, who evaluated health and behavioral data, along with learning community and professional input to decide on a prevention agenda that includes addressing chronic disease, physical activity and nutrition, access to quality health care and infectious disease.
There is a need to address the issues, they say. For instance, in 2008-09, 10.4 percent of males and 11.9 percent of females in the county were diagnosed with diabetes, compared to 7.5 percent of males and 10.4 percent of females statewide.
"We are most concerned about elevated death rates," said Toni DeAngelo, who represents WCA Hospital on the task force. She said the age-adjusted 2005-2007 diabetes death rate in Chautauqua County was 26.6 people per 100,000 above the state's 18.4 people per 100,000.
"This means that Chautauqua County residents are more likely to die as a result of diabetes than many other counties in the state," she said. "We believe this is related to improper self-management of the disease."
The task force, therefore, seeks to influence changes to help prevent health complications related to diabetes.
"We see these statistics, in addition to the struggles we see every day, as an opportunity to make improvements," said Linda Walters, registered nurse and certified diabetes educator for Brooks Memorial Hospital in Dunkirk. She said studies show that patients who participate in diabetes management programs are healthier and have lower health care costs.
In hopes of enabling more to participate, the task force plans to distribute a universal referal form to physicians containing contact information, along with working with local optometrists, opthalmologists and doctors to improve communication and documentation of visits.
The group will not only deal with preventing the disease but also by helping those who already have it.
"We really needed to improve our resources," said Jackie Carlson of WCA Hospital, who is a certified diabetes instructor and task force member. She said one has to be able to rely on themselves to make proper decisions and know when to ask for help when diagnosed with diabetes. A survey done about two years ago, however, she said asked questions of those with diabetes about how to take care of themselves: about 45 percent did not have the education needed.
"It's an opportunity for improvement," she said, adding the county has resources to help that people are not aware exist. Letting them know about the resources is the first step of the task force, she said. Next, said Carlson, care needs to be coordinated amongst specialists who deal with patients with diabetes.
On the prevention side, she said the number of those with diabetes is increasing nationally.
"Obesity is becoming a bigger problem," she said, adding some diabetes is related to obesity. "As the number of people who are obese increases, the number of those with diabetes is increasing."
Therefore, she said, the task force is trying to help people before they get the disease to avoid the illness.
"Studies show if people change lifestyles to include diet and exercise, more than 60 percent can prevent diabetes," she said. Carlson said staying active is important. She encourages 30 minutes of activity a day such as walking, bicycling, hiking or dancing.
"As time goes on, our bodies are not as efficient," she said, adding people may want to increase that 30 minutes of activity to more. Watching portion sizes is also important, she said, as is eating not as many refined foods and sweets. She also recommends they see physicians annually, stay on top of any medical conditions that need to be monitored. If diagnosed with diabetes, she encourages people to see one of seven educators in the county to keep the disease in control to prevent others such as heart, kidney or eyesight difficulty that could result.
"While diabetes runs in some families, many of our residents can work to prevent the onset of diabetes," said county Public Health Director Christine Schuyler. "Maintaining a healthy weight, getting plenty of exercise and eating a nutritious diet are important steps that need to be taken to prevent this life-altering disease."
Diabetes education is available through Brooks Memorial Hospital, Nutri-perx of Dunkirk, Nutrition to Go in Cassadaga, WCA Hospital in Jamestown and Westfield Memorial Hospital.
To speak with a task force member or for an update on activities, contact Breeanne Neal at firstname.lastname@example.org or 753-4771 or visit the Chautauqua County Diabetes Task Force on Facebook.