Navigating College with Diabetes

Having a child with type 1 diabetes go off to college can be scary. I remember when Josh first started college and was going to live in the dorm. At that time, he wasn’t interested in telling anyone he had diabetes or wearing an alert bracelet. My fear was if he had a low blood sugar and became unconscious. So far nothing bad has happened, and he has even changed colleges and is now 14 hours away, plus did a study abroad in Europe for 3 months with no problems.

Going to college can force indepence and realizing they have to take care of their diabetes. His first A1C jumped very high that first semester. But then he began taking better care of it. When we visited his apartment in Florida recently, I noticed he had a big drawer in his bathroom with his pump supplies, meters, strips, and all the supplies. He leaves his meter sitting on his bathroom counter to remind him to check. He also has a meter in his car and backpack.

Tips for Going Off to College

Find some support

  • College Diabetes Network is a great group. They have some great resources for you and your child. They have groups at some colleges, so check out your college for this group. Here’s the links to their books:

Parent book

Student book

  • JDRF in their local area.
  • Roommate: It’s best if their roommate is willing to learn about diabetes, at least about what a low blood sugar is and what to do for it. If they will learn glucagon that’s a great bonus!

Food

Check out whatever the meal plan is and how your child can determine the carbs. You might have them read Carb Counting Made Easy to make sure they feel confident counting carbs.

    1. Keep food in their rooms, especially always have food for low blood sugars.
    2. Have a refrigerator in their room, whether this means asking the school for one or supplying your own.
    3. Keep food for a sick day, such as canned soups, gatorade, Sprite. Keep some sugar beverages in case their blood sugar is staying low and they can’t keep foods down, and some sugar free beverages in case they have ketones and high blood sugars.
    4. If they are staying in an apartment and have to prepare their own meals, make sure they know how to cook basic foods and how to incorporate healthier foods into their meals instead of relying on frozen meals, which are often not healthy.

Alcohol

As much as we want them to avoid alcohol, the reality is that college is full of parties. Make sure they understand the dangers of alcohol, especially of having a low blood sugar. Make sure they understand what to do if they drink alcohol, including having food with alcohol, checking their blood sugar, making sure who they are with understands they have diabetes and what to do, and eating a snack before they go to bed if their blood sugar is trending toward low.

Pharmacy

Find a local pharmacy. I always use a national chain, that way no matter where they are they can fill a prescription easier. We have had to fill the prescription in Tennessee and Florida, so it’s easier if the pharmacy already has the prescription in their system.

Make sure they understand that they can not wait until they are out of insulin to fill it. Teach them to plan ahead! I’ve actually had Josh call at 6pm saying he was out of insulin which at the time was when he first went to FL. Thank goodness I was working for an endo and had him call in a prescription to the Walmart in Florida which was still open. At the time I was mailing him the insulin. Now we have planned ahead and he gets his prescription himself.

Also let them know that regular insulin (the old version) can be bought over the counter at pharmacies without a prescription. This insulin works differently, but in an emergency if there is not a prescription on file, this will keep them out of the emergency room.

Questions and problems :

Many clinics have the ability to see your pump or meter downloads remotely. Ask your doctor if you can download each month or if you have problems. Make sure your child has the number to the clinic and feels confident calling them for problems.

Know when to go to the emergency room.

Make sure your child knows severe symptoms and problems in which he needs help.

  • This includes high ketones that are not responding to care. Here’s a post on ketones and what to do.
  • Low blood sugar that is not responding to food. Call for an ambulance.
  • Vomiting and unable to eat.

Getting a doctor in your college town.

We don’t actually have a doctor in FL. Josh prefers to come home for clinic visits. This has worked out fine for us. Other students prefer to have a local doctor.  Ask your doctor about what he recommends. Ask for a referral or recommendations or here is the United States Endocrinology Association provider look-up:

AACE provider lookup

Most colleges have a health care clinic. Josh goes to the clinic to see the doctor for any minor sicknesses.

Let the school know your child has diabetes.

Have your college student go to the disability office on campus. They can have permission to have food in a classroom, take time out to check blood sugar if needed, get excused for being late due to diabetes, amongt other things. This is worth checking into and implementing just in case of an emergency. There is also extra insurance you can get that covers the tuition in case of an emergency hospitalization that requires them to drop out for a semester.

Besides a few things like running out of insulin on a 14 hour drive back (which involoved finding a Walmart and buying a vial) and getting to close to running out of pump supplies, things have gone well. Have confidence in your child and in yourself knowing that you have taught them what they need to know to take care of themselves.

Take some of these tips and implement them, and wish your college child well. Reply below in the comments on your tips for going to college!

Another good tip that’s not really related to diabetes but my family has benefited from is students get a discount on Amazon Prime. Check it out!

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Author: Carol

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