Online social support for older adults with Type 2 diabetes

Perry Gee
Deborah Greenwood
Lisa Miller


Background: People with type 2 make up 90-95% of all people with diabetes. Failure to self-manage this condition can lead to serious complications -- heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, blindness, and amputations (CDC, 2014). Ongoing metabolic management is imperative to prevent sever complications and increased mortality, it is the goal of self-management. There is a strong relationship between social support and illness self-management for the adult with diabetes (Nicklett and Liang, 2009). Evidence indicates that social support is associated with adherence to diabetes self-management activities, improved outcomes and reduced mortality in older adults with type 2 diabetes. A diabetes online community (DOC) may provide the social support necessary to promote engagement and self-management activities for the person over 65 with type 2 diabetes. Given the well-recognized adverse health consequences of type 2 diabetes in the older adult, there is a critical need to conduct research about older adult adoption, use and efficacy of online communities to facilitate self-management support.

Objectives: Our preliminary analysis of the data strongly suggest that adults age 65 and over are significantly underrepresented in the diabetes online community. Our objectives in this study are to identify the demographics and social support factors related to members who are older adults with type 2 diabetes and who are participants in a  large well-established DOC.

Methods: An analysis of a large dataset consisting of the enrollment information collected when registering to join a large, international DOC will be conducted using multivariate statistics. We will carefully analyze the data for diabetes type, age, gender, rural status and types of support being sought when joining the online community.

Results: The findings of the study will be disseminated and discussed at the symposium.

Discussion: Our long-term research goal is to develop and promote an online diabetes community intervention that meets the support needs for the older adult with type 2 diabetes. Our rationale is that online social support for older adults with type 2 diabetes will improve self-management and adherence to the treatment regime. Our central hypothesis, based upon anecdotal published reports, is that a strategically designed and implemented online diabetes community will meet the social support needs for the older adult with type 2 diabetes and promote adherence to diabetes self-management activities. The goal of this first study is to better understand the social support needs of the older adult with type 2 diabetes, their use of the DOC, and their defining demographics. The findings of this study will facilitate the development of future research questions and opportunities related to the social support offered by the DOC to the older adult with the 2 diabetes.

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