How Technology Can Help Children With Diabetes

Mother and son on computer

As parts of the country reopen in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, returning to normalcy has proven particularly difficult for families with children who have diabetes. According to a new study from the University of South Alabama, the average blood sugar levels of children with diabetes increased significantly during quarantine. This likely stems from common life events, but affects these children and their health dramatically: changes in routine, decreased exercise, and an increase in stress. What’s more, children from economically disadvantaged families and Black children were affected at higher rates.

In order to counteract these impacts, finding ways to manage diabetes control for children is particularly important right now. As parents of diabetic children know, proper management is crucial in preventing complications and improving overall health and wellbeing. Luckily, several modern technological tools have made the process significantly easier for both parents and children.

The Role of Tech in Diabetes Management

As technology has made information more accessible all over the world (and changed the way we conduct our lives, from shopping to managing our finances), access to healthcare has followed suit. It has improved the quality of patient care, given patients the ability to compare procedure and prescription pricing, and made it easier for patients to access their own healthcare information. For people with chronic conditions like diabetes, this is especially important.

People with diabetes must constantly track a wide variety of information, including blood sugar levels, food intake, exercise, and insulin. While people used to keep track of this information on paper, there is now a multitude of apps that can do it for them — and even help them better understand it. Collecting this information on an app can also help users share vital information with their primary care physician, or other doctors, keeping them informed between appointments. There is also a wide variety of online resources that offer support to people with diabetes, like telehealth and chat services. These services allow patients to communicate easily with their healthcare providers and receive fast, timely care. They also make high-quality care more accessible to people in underserved communities who are traditionally affected by diabetes at higher rates.

For children and teens with diabetes, these  technological tools are especially helpful, as they communicate vital information and offer support in a format with which these young people are already familiar. Tools range from telehealth and chatting apps to tools like glucose trackers and resources on the best foods to eat (and those to avoid). The use of these tools, in combination with local nurse care, was detailed in a recent study that showed it was more effective in decreasing the levels of HbA1c (average plasma glucose concentration) in low-income adults than traditional care.

Games, on the other hand, have proven to promote better health outcomes in children and adolescents with diabetes. In fact, scientific reviews have shown that young people with diabetes who have played diabetes-related games experience a significant decrease in emergency hospital visits (77%). Games and apps designed for young people with diabetes can help with decision-making regarding meals, insulin injections, and understanding the relationship between glucose levels, physical activity, and food intake.

Statistic of percentage of young people with disabilities that have experienced a drop in emergency hospital visits after consistently using a diabetes gameThere have even been significant developments in artificial intelligence (AI) related to the gamification of diabetes management. These types of tools are rapidly expanding, and they are currently being used to assist in diabetes management, along with the lifestyle challenges this condition poses. It’s not surprising that the use of tech tools and gamification in diabetes management is expected to grow and develop significantly over the next five to 10 years.

This article includes a collection of technological resources for young people with diabetes. The list of free games and apps can help young people better understand and manage their diabetes, in addition to a guide for navigating online care resources. We hope that this compilation of resources will help the families of children and teens with diabetes feel more empowered and in control of their children’s health and wellbeing.

Free Games for Young People With Diabetes

Most kids love games, and many of them are already familiar with games played on a smartphone, tablet, or computer. This makes games developed for young people with diabetes an easy sell — and an approachable way for them to better understand things like glucose levels, insulin management, and food choices. There are a variety of free games on the market, from more interactive options to storybook-like options, that help younger children understand what diabetes is and how it works.

Games to Educate Children About Diabetes

Diabetic’s Diner

This game helps kids learn about how different foods can affect them and their diabetes by explaining which foods have a positive and negative impact on people with diabetes. By picking the good foods and avoiding the bad ones as they float past, players increase their score and move to the next level.

Diapets

With Diapets, kids can take care of a baby dragon who has recently been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. To keep the dragon happy, players have to count carbs, check the dragon’s blood sugar levels at the appropriate time, and encourage him to face his fear of insulin needles. It’s a great, accessible way for kids to become more comfortable with many of the day-to-day aspects of managing diabetes.

Jerry the Bear

Similar to Diapets, Jerry the Bear uses play to help educate children on proper diabetes management. In this game, they will take care of Jerry, who has Type 1 diabetes. They will check Jerry’s blood sugar, administer his insulin, and even step into the kitchen to identify which foods are best for him.

Games and Apps to Educate Teens about Diabetes

Invincible

This app is explicitly designed for teens navigating Type 1 diabetes. The app offers videos from other teens who deal with diabetes, includes knowledge games to help test the teen’s understanding of diabetes and its various topics, and encourages them to “level up” their skills with a fun design.

I Got This: An Interactive Story

This app, developed by UC Berkeley’s The Lawrence Hall of Science, is an interactive story that follows the journey of a teenage girl who has been recently diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. The app offers a relatable, real-life version of what it’s like to live with diabetes as it focuses on the causes, symptoms, and social repercussions of the disease.

My Diabetic Games

This educational game is for kids of all ages who want to learn more about managing their diabetes. Players learn how to self-administer insulin, determine dosages, and measure their blood sugar levels — all while understanding what specifically happens in the body when it enters hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia. Succeeding in the game wins players coins, which they can use to change their avatars’ outfits, buy new furniture, and improve their character.

Free Apps to Help Young People Manage Diabetes

Diabetes-focused apps can help keep young people on track in monitoring their glucose levels and carbohydrate intake. Here, we have compiled a list of diabetes-focused apps that are either specifically designed for young people or accessible to them through the quality of their design.

Apps for Children With Diabetes

Toby’s T1D Tale

This iPad app functions like an interactive storybook, where children can learn about the basics of Type 1 diabetes in an accessible, engaging way. It can even help their siblings learn more about diabetes, too.

mySugr

This app, which can be used by older children but is also great for parents, offers a clear, colorful, and customizable dashboard to help maintain a diabetes log book. It also syncs with connected devices like blood sugar meters. Kids will love the app’s little “monster” that encourages them along the way.

Apps for Teens With Diabetes

T1D1

This app wasn’t designed explicitly for teens, but it was developed by one — 13-year-old Drew Mendelow taught himself to code after being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes because he wanted to develop a versatile tracking app without any ads or fees. T1D1 allows users to track their glucose, carbs, and insulin with an insulin calculator that allows for different carb ratios at every meal.

Center Health

This app includes a “personal assistant” named Aria, who will point out trends in the user’s data. This can help teens to better understand, learn from, and predict their own spikes and lows.

Glucose Buddy

This is one of the most popular diabetes tracker apps on the market, which makes it great for teens who are ready to fully manage their diabetes on their own.

Your Diabetes Guardian

This app is great for parents whose children are returning to school this fall, as it allows them to remotely monitor and track their child’s diabetes management.

OneTouch Reveal

This app searches for long-term trends and patterns using blood glucose readings. Any time it notices a sustained abnormality, it sends a push notification so the user can correct and deal with the issue. This is helpful for teens who need a little extra push to monitor their diabetes. They can even have their doctor log into the app to review their history and adjust their care plan if needed.

One Drop

This app connects users to its community of people living with diabetes where members share advice, find support, and offer management tips to each other. A paid version offers one-on-one coaching and transformation plans, however, the free version does allow teens to search an extensive food database, track their data, and set reminders for things like glucose checks and weigh-ins.

Talk to a Healthcare Provider

It’s great to use technological tools to access healthcare and medical advice from the comfort of your own home, but nothing beats talking to a trusted source in person. If you’re considering signing your child up for something like a telehealth service — or changing any part of their management plan — it’s important to discuss these decisions with your healthcare provider first. They will be able to counsel you on the best steps to take to manage your child’s diabetes in a way that puts their wellbeing first. They will also likely have an understanding of available alternatives.

Make Sure You Are Using a Trusted Source

While technology can help make life easier, it also makes accessing healthcare resources a much less daunting task. However, the internet is a place where false information can spread quickly, and some resources are less trustworthy than they may appear. Beware of advertisements and always read any user reviews that are available. If possible, research tools on diabetes forums, or talk with people living with diabetes about the service, app, or website you are considering. This information is often more reliable than a Google search result.

Look for Local Resources

Community-based resources are incredibly useful, as they can often connect you with in-person resources as well as a community of people dealing with the same issues you are. If you are looking for free resources, community health centers are an excellent way to find diabetes care advice without paying hefty sums of money. The CDC has a database of local diabetes programs, which is a great place to start.

Summary

There is a multitude of options when it comes to technological tools to help people — particularly young people — manage and learn about their diabetes. If you or a family member is living with diabetes, consider incorporating one or more of these tools into your care regimen. The resources above are just a few of the options available to help with diabetes management. Although it may take some time, the effort you put into finding the management and education tools that work for you and your family will be worth it. These tools can help you — and your children — improve health and wellbeing while quickly feeling more empowered to manage diabetes successfully.

 

The inclusion of these resources is for educational purposes only and does not constitute an endorsement by UT Austin Boot Camps. Furthermore, the tools provided are not intended to act as or replace professional diagnosis or consultation and should not be used as such. If you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms related to diabetes, please contact your healthcare provider.

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