If you are heading to College, we recommend that you have a look at the ‘Type 1 diabetes -Tips for college life’ booklet. You will find some practical advice on managing Type 1 diabetes for new 3rd level students. Click on the link to download – Diabetes Tips For College Life or contact Diabetes Ireland and order a copy. It is also available at your college DARE office.
This booklet was written in 2013 and updated in 2020 as a guide for those with Type 1 diabetes, for themselves but also as a resource for new friends, colleagues, and roommates to help them understand more about Type 1 diabetes. It also includes tips on what to do in the event of a hypo and how illness can be managed.
Heading to college is daunting for most people. You may be excited, nervous, anxious, and eager all rolled into one. It is a day you have planned for during the past year or two. You are now ready to embark on a new phase in your life and this usually involves spending a lot less time at home or moving away from home for the first time.
Until now home has probably more than likely been the natural hub of support for you as you grow towards adulthood. And family, siblings and friends at home will also have been a support for you when you are managing your diabetes.
With the move away from home comes more responsibilities. The structure of the day will be very different. You will be familiarising yourself with your new lifestyle over the first few weeks. The route to success is planning as much as possible.
Areas to look at may include:
• Timing of lectures.
• Timing of meals, snacks, and insulin.
• Availability of meals and snacks.
• Travel to and from college and mode of transport.
• Looking after your own diabetes supplies.
• Doing your own shopping.
• Sports activities.
• Leisure activities.
• Socialising and alcohol.
You may find that you are more active in college than at home with:
• Earlier mornings.
• Running to lectures around campus.
• Studying for long periods without eating.
• Eating smaller meals.
• Eating more convenience foods.
All the above can keep all new students very busy, particularly if you are managing type 1 diabetes at the same time. This is why it is a good idea to build a support network of old and new friends to help you along the way. On campus health services may be a valuable source of support too.
The Disability Access Route to Education is a college and university admissions scheme which offers places on reduced CAO points basis to school leavers under 23 years old with disabilities(Type 1 diabetes as a lifelong condition qualifies under this definition)
Get AHEAD (The Association for Higher Education Access and Disability)
They provide information about educational supports for students with disabilities, including diabetes. It says that students with any of the mentioned disabilities should check before the beginning of the academic year to find out what supports will be available to them.
It may be that your requirements are minimal such as being allowed to check glucose in the lecture hall or having a snack during an exam. AHEAD also make the point that “students must bear in mind that they will have to negotiate for the supports with the lecturers, tutors, or student support officers in the universities or the access officer in the IT colleges.”
Inform your College
College sources recommend that students with any particular health condition inform them at the start of the year. On a practical level this will ensure that the student knows the location of the college health centre, and from a clinical point of view, if there is a medical incident the unit staff will be aware of the student’s medical background. Students will also have access to a disability officer should the need arise.
Time for Revision
It would be wise to take some time to revise your diabetes management plans, and observe what is happening with your diabetes over the first few weeks as you settle in. Revise the tips you have learnt regarding managing your diabetes if you are ill. Also take the opportunity to explain to friends and any new roommates what type 1 diabetes is, and what they would be able to do in the event of you having a hypo. Make sure that supplies to treat a hypo are available and that someone knows how to use glucagon, or to get help. You should carry some form of identification.
Activities and Socialising
When you get involved in sports activities, take time to adjust your regime until you find what works best for you. You may decide to inform your coach and teammates of your diabetes, explaining the positive effects physical activity has on diabetes management. This means they can support you if you have a hypo. Parties and late nights will be a part of college life. If you drink alcohol, be responsible and take time to discuss with friends the effects of alcohol on your blood sugars.
Transition to Adult Services
We recommend having a look at www.steppingup.ie
Many teenagers with diabetes transfer to an adult diabetes service around this time. If you have not already moved, it may be a good idea to delay the move for a couple of months, if you can, until you are settled in.
You can draw on the support from your adult diabetes team at this time, but you may be more at ease with speaking with the team you know well. At some stage you may decide to access a diabetes service closer to your college so that you can continue to attend your clinic appointments and reviews without traveling home. Otherwise, you might be happy to schedule your appointments during college breaks.
According to an attendee at the Diabetes Ireland teen conference in Croke Park Dublin 2009: “Care might become disjointed and young people can feel unsupported at this time” and “I do not feel you should move at this time because when starting college, you might have no structure in your life.”
Don’t forget how your family has supported you and they can continue to do so from a distance. Don’t hesitate in keeping them up to date as to how you are coping in your new environment.
Many people find it difficult to make choices about further education and/or jobs. Let your interests and abilities be your primary guide. Like anyone else you can choose a job that fits your personal interests and abilities. Currently, in Ireland however exclusion, due to difficulty passing medicals because of taking insulin, still exists for those with Type 1 diabetes in the defence forces, emergency services, railway workers and some careers at sea.
In 2015, the Gardaí introduced individual assessment, so this option is now open to people with diabetes to apply through the normal channels and conditions. For careers involving driving a HGV it may not be possible to retain the required driving license. For further information on HGV licenses please check out our driving section.
Diabetes may be misunderstood and feared by some employers. If you are the right person for the job, it is important that you can show that diabetes will not affect your work.
Always tell your colleagues you have diabetes and explain that it will have no impact on your performance when well controlled. Explain hypoglycaemia and what needs to be done in an emergency.
Regular working hours make it easier to control your blood sugar. This does not mean that you cannot choose a job with irregular working hours or shift work, but you will have to plan more carefully. When will you eat? When will you exercise? Will you be able to tailor your diabetes treatment to your working hours? You may have to test your blood sugar more often and increase the number of insulin injections you take each day. If you are working at a job with irregular hours, discuss your treatment plan with your diabetes care team.
Discrimination at Work/Education
Diabetes is not a disability. People who feel they have been discriminated against should consult Diabetes Ireland. Diabetes Ireland is currently advocating the removal of blanket bans for these professions and advocating individual assessment based on ability.
If you drink alcohol, it is important to know the effect it can have on your blood glucose for your own safety. Discuss alcohol with your diabetes team so they can advise you appropriately. To download the Alcohol and Diabetes Poster, click here.
The general advice on alcohol consumption for a person with diabetes is the same as that for everyone. Alcohol should only be taken in moderation, to a maximum of 11 units per week for women and 17 units per week for men. One should aim to have 3-4 alcohol free days per week.
Drinking alcohol increases the chances of you having a hypo during that night and throughout the next day. There are some precautions a person with diabetes should take, particularly if on insulin:
- Drink in moderation.
- Do extra blood glucose checks as alcohol may mask hypo symptoms.
- Carry carbohydrate.
- Talk to your friends about hypo symptoms and how you manage them.
- Don’t drink on an empty stomach.
- Carry ID saying you have diabetes such as a medic alert bracelet or a medic alert screen saver on your phone.
- Have a carbohydrate snack before going to bed, and don’t forget to take your long-acting insulin if you take it at night.
- Set your alarm to ensure you wake up to test your glucose level.
- The risk of a hypo continues the next day after alcohol so you may need to adjust your insulin/food intake, accordingly, discuss with your diabetes team for further advice.
NB: It is illegal in Ireland for persons under the age of 18 to purchase or consume alcohol.
Travelling with diabetes can appear to be a daunting experience but with some planning and preparation there is no reason why you can’t have a hassle-free holiday of a lifetime. For more information on travelling with diabetes please head to our travel section.