Sharleen Watt has been holding information sessions for those with diabetes for several years at the Lehigh Senior Citizen Center on Plaza Drive. Anyone in Lehigh who has diabetes and their caretakers, including spouses, are always invited to what has become one of the most information programs at the center.
Watt of Fort Myers, is a former resident of Lehigh Acres and began the diabetes education programs back when the local hospital was known as East Point Hospital and was owned by other owners over the years. Today, Lehigh Regional Medical Center, under different ownership, still sponsors the senior citizen center and Watt whose programs, she says, are also open to anyone who wants to find ways to live a better life through changing eating habits and exercising.
"I always say that programs for diabetics are very good ones nutrition wise for others who want good health and to remain healthy," Watt said.
The group met last Thursday at the senior citizen center and a dozen or so local residents were on hand to listen to Watt offer advice and also show a PowerPoint presentation. She also offered literature to those attending and said she always emails it out to those who have come in the past.
Listening to Watt is like attending your first class on how to become healthy as a diabetic. Remember, Watt has been conducting these sessions for at least 10 years, but her material is fresh and up to date.
"I am always searching the Internet for new information on diabetes. I keep up with what is changing and what the officials are saying. I find this helps those with the disease that affects millions in the U.S., and leads to death if not tended to properly," she said.
Watt was a registered nurse at the hospital and then a medical surgical night supervisor. She said nurses are some of the best advisers for care on diabetics.
Classes are held once a month and beginning in October, classes will be the first Thursday and also again in November. In January, she said classes may be on the third Thursday. The class starts at 9 a.m. and lasts for an hour or more.
Lehigh Regional Medical Center provides those who attend a continental breakfast and the local hospital under other ownerships have always provided a morning meal before the class begins.
Watt said the classes actually began in 1997 with the help of another nurse and there has not been a month since, that the class has not been held.
"Information for people who have diabetes changes as we progress with better information. I am always learning new information from medical authorities across the country and one of the best places today is the Internet," she said.
Then she laughed and cautioned those who attended the class that they should not spend a lot of time on the Internet.
"You need to get up and walk, exercise because that is healthy," she said.
And she compared new information about diabetes to the way the Internet and computers have evolved.
As said before, she sends out news letters to those who attend the class and those on her email list and she often includes recipes for diabetics and others who want to eat healthy.
Her presentation last week was centered on diabetes and the elderly and she talked about the many variables that affect those who are in their senior years.
"There are new seniors, middle seniors, later seniors and those who are referred to as frail seniors. We have learned that each of them require different ways to be treated for diabetes. She said today that those people who have been classified as the very aged or the frail aged are not advised to be very strict anymore with their meals.
"Medical authorities have decided that they should be allowed to eat more of what they like, since they may be at the end of their life," she said.
She noted the importance about medications and what diabetics take and how it may or may not interact with meds and that includes even insulin that diabetics may be taking.
And she laughed when she said that the literature she had given them last week should be taken to the bathroom where people find more time to read. That remark brought laughs from the audience.
She repeated over and over that exercise and diet can bring changes to people with diabetes and help to make a difference in their lifestyle.
She talked about low carb foods and noted that many white foods are usually not good for you if you are a diabetic. She said that includes white bread and other baked goods.
"And these ways of eating are also great for people without diabetes. It is a better way to eat to remain healthy," she said.
"When you think white, that means such things as white bread and white rice. Learn to get them out of your diet. To do that for people who love potatoes, you can start mixing things like cauliflower with your mashed potatoes.
She noted that years ago when a diabetic was told he or she must go on insulin, the news was horrible. But not today, she said.
"Using insulin as we age as diabetics is a good thing. It can prolong our lives as long as we work at eating better foods and exercise," she said.
"But do remember that diabetes is a chronic disease and it will progress at a faster speed as we age," she said.
Earl Keaton, 85, of Alva, attended last week's meeting for the first time. He is proud to say that he keeps his glucose numbers low when he tests his blood with an average of 95.
"My mother and brother died from the complications of diabetes. They had kidney failure and some had their legs removed. I took it very serious and have tried to live a healthy life and keep my glucose numbers low," he said.
Watt offered detailed information about diabetes and those with questions were able to make inquiries.
She noted that grapes are a good carb for people with diabetes, but she
noted that one grape is one good carb and that equals 15 grams of sugar. For snacks, they are an excellent choice, but be careful how many you eat," she said.
"Another good snack is an apple with soft cheese and there are these new quarter-sized cheeses in the stores now. One of them is a good snack and is a good carb to consider," she said.
"But with that apple, make sure you choose a small one, not a big one like you see so much of today in the produce sections of the supermarkets.
She noted that diabetes becomes more common as we age. Aging does not just affect the color of our hair and the tautness of our skin, it also affects all our internal organs.
There was information from fliers that she passes out to those who attend.
In them, it noted that our metabolism slows, our aerobic capacity diminishes, and our bodies become less adept at absorbing glucose from the bloodstream. "We may become glucose intolerant, which may lead to type 2 diabetes," she said.
Watt noted that older people with diabetes are at risk for cardiovascular disease and they also suffer more dementia, depression, urinary incontinence, falls and chronic pain.
Diabetes complications can speed the aging process. Eye disease can worsen already-facing eyesight, diabetic retinopathy can complicate arthritis and diabetic kidney disease can speed the decline of kidney function to kidney failure.
She discussed hyperglycemia, which is when your blood numbers are high. She said the pancreas doesn't produce insulin as it did years ago and the cells of our bodies are not getting needed nourishment. And she spoke about how dangerous low numbers can be, too.
Diabetics should be tested and their A1C numbers should be seen and be below 7.
"Your A1C should be checked at least every six months," Watt said.
Such things as blood pressure are important and affect diabetes, too. She noted that people who are not taking blood thinning medicine should consider the 81 grams aspirin to take daily.
Watt's presentation was outstanding and people with diabetes and their spouses and others who want to avoid diabetes are well advised to consider attending her classes. The public is invited the sessions; there is no cost to attend.