A team of researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that age at diagnosis strongly influences the well-being of individuals newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. The research was published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine.

Senior author and professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University’s Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Vicki Helgeson, PhD, along with colleagues, explored the potential role of psychological stress in the success of diabetic treatment in newly diagnosed individuals of varying ages. According to Dr. Helgeson, “We found we can evaluate a patient’s initial stress and predict how they will be doing six months later.” Dr. Helgeson added, “If you can identify people who are facing diabetes distress earlier, you can intervene and prevent their health from declining.”

Funded by the National Institutes of Health, the team embarked on this project to examine the potential association between the stress of diabetes and psychological well-being and health. Included in the review was age at diagnosis and the extent to which age-related factors influence disease-management outcomes.  

Building on past research that has linked stress to poor diabetes management, the study evaluated the psychological stress and healthcare outcomes of 207 patients aged 25 to 82 years who had been recently diagnosed with diabetes (within the past 2 years). In addition to age, confounding variables such as gender, race/ethnicity, education, employment, relationship status, income, and use of medications were considered. 

The research team reported that older patients (older than age 64 years) had less psychological stress and greater consistency in self-care (r = .23, P <.01), blood sugar control (r = –.20, P <.01), and medication adherence (r = .28, P <.001). Patients in long-term relationships also reported less diabetes stress. Conversely, younger patients (those aged 42 years and younger) experienced higher diabetes-related and psychological distress (r = –.28, P <.001). Additionally, patients with higher education and income (earning over $100,000) also had more stress. The patients who self-reported higher levels of stress also reported poorer medication adherence, depressed mood, and co-occurring anxiety. Diet, concern over abnormal blood-glucose events, and the need to monitor blood glucose were reported to be among the most common stressors. “Diabetes care is difficult, because it requires a lifestyle change that you have to do forever,” Dr. Helgeson said. “Life gets in the way of sticking to a diabetes regimen.”  

 « Click here to return to Diabetes Update.