Diabetes Awareness: How employers can help

Despite the efforts of clinicians and the Canadian Diabetes Association’s mission to make all Canadians aware of a person’s risk and the need for screening, diabetes is on the rise.  In Canada there are presently over 10 million Canadians living with diabetes, or prediabetes.

What is it?
Diabetes is a disease in which the body doesn’t produce or, cannot properly use insulin. This is a necessary hormone that allows us to control the amount of glucose in our blood. With an increased blood sugar (glucose) we can damage our organs, blood vessels and nerves.

The signs and symptoms of diabetes as quoted from the Canadian Diabetes Association may include:

  • Unusual thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Weight change
  • Extreme fatigue or lack of energy
  • Blurred vision
  • Frequent or recurring infections
  • Slow healing (cuts and bruises)
  • Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
  • Trouble achieving or maintaining an erection

Three types of diabetes:

  1. Type 1 diabetes is an insulin-dependent diabetes.
  2. Type 2 diabetes is an insulin insensitivity diabetes. It can often be controlled through diet and physical activity, but may need medications including insulin.
  3. Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy and can increase the risk to both mother and baby of developing diabetes.

The effects of unmanaged diabetes or high blood sugars can be devastating, ranging from kidney disease and lower limb amputation to eye disease that can lead to blindness. It also affects the circulation system, resulting in blood vessel damage, which can lead to heart attack, stroke or nerve damage. Erectile dysfunction is another complication for male diabetics.

Those living with diabetes must manage their disease to avoid any complications. This includes education programs, a well-balanced diabetic diet, physical activity and ongoing medical follow-up for medications and blood pressure. The diabetic patient requires ongoing lifestyle management to maintain control of their disease.

Given the number of Canadians living with diabetes, it’s highly likely that there’s a diabetic in your workforce. It’s important to know that when this disease is well-managed, a diabetic is capable of working anywhere, thanks to improvements in insulins, medical testing and health care education. Rapid-acting synthetic insulins have vastly improved a diabetic’s ability to cope with shift work, driving for work or operating machinery, and allow for more flexibility and better management of the disease.

Diabetes and the Work Environment
With proper planning and a supportive work environment, this work relationship should be very successful. Diabetics should inform their workplace of their disease and ensure co-workers are aware of what’s required in case of a hypo-glycemic reaction, including where the supplies are located to assist them. Furthermore, stress or poor management may result in the diabetic’s need  for a short term disability leave to get their disease under control. This should be a very short time period (one week). The employer should be aware that the diabetic employee may require regular meals and rest breaks as well as an area to test their blood glucose or give themselves an insulin shot. Knowledge of diabetes can support wellness initiatives in the workplace and have an impact on decreasing the costs to your benefits program.

A supportive work environment goes a long way in helping the diabetic employee remain at work and better able to manage their disease.

For more information, please contact your Cowan Disability Management Specialist, or the author of this article, Kelly Alarie, Principal Consultant & Manager, Health & Disability at 1-888-509-7797.