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Autonomy Support from Family and Friends Can Lead to Better Diabetes Management

April 30, 2018

Adults with poorly controlled diabetes, and at high risk of complications, are more likely to experience poor self-management and glycemic control. Social support consistently has been linked to better health outcomes for adults with chronic conditions, including diabetes. HSR&D investigators recently published an article in the journal Diabetes Care showing that autonomy support -defined as social support for an individual’s personal agency - may contribute to better glycemic control and mitigate diabetes distress. Three hundred eight Veterans with type 2 diabetes, one or more risk factors for complications, and a main informal health supporter (usually a spouse/partner) completed surveys to assess their perceived autonomy support and emotional distress associated with managing and living with diabetes. Investigators obtained hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) data from electronic medical records (EMR) from 12 months prior to and 12 months after the survey.

Findings showed that increased autonomy support was associated with lower HbA1c levels, as well as diminished diabetes distress, which can additionally lead to lower HbA1c levels. Researchers concluded that increased levels of acknowledgement of patients’ perspectives, responding to their self-care initiatives, and minimizing supporter control of diabetes management may contribute to better glycemic control both directly, and through buffering the effect of disease related distress.

In an article on Reuters news agency’s online Health News, lead author Aaron Lee of VA Ann Arbor says the research indicates that “how people support family and friends with diabetes may be… more important than how much support they provide.” Dr. Pouran Faghri, Director of the Center for Environmental Health and Health Promotion at the University of Connecticut states that this study upholds earlier findings that emotional support from family and friends may alleviate emotional distress from living with chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer and “help the person with diabetes better manage their chronic condition.”

Lee A, Piette J, Heisler M, & Rosland AM.  Diabetes Distress and Glycemic Control: The Buffering Effect of Autonomy Support From Important Family Members and Friends. Diabetes Care March 29, 2018; Epub ahead of print

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