diabetes Aboriginal & Torres Strait

Managing Diabetes in Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander populations

This Diabetes Week, we want to help empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are living with diabetes to take their health into their own hands. Statistically, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians are four times more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than non-Indigenous Australians. The good news is that making changes to your lifestyle can help to both prevent and manage type 2 diabetes.

So, where can you get help?

The role of Community Health Services

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Controlled Health Services encourage cultural connections and knowledge translation between generations, to provide a safe place for clients to take control of their health. Staff and clients work together as a community to deliver comprehensive, culturally appropriate and strengths-based services. If you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes and aren’t sure where to get help, your Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Controlled Health Service can help.

Meet Uncle Frank*

Prior to his diagnosis, Uncle Frank wasn’t eating properly, exercising regularly or attending his doctor appointments. Then, he chose to take control of his health. Uncle Frank was referred to several programs through his Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Controlled Health Service. A team of health professionals were able to walk alongside him and empowered him to improve his health and make real changes to impact his life in a positive way.

The Community Liaison Officer at his clinic helped Uncle Frank build relationships with the new team he was connecting with. This helped him to feel more comfortable attending appointments, addressed some of his key concerns, and allowed him to take a positive, strengths-based approach to his health. The Community Liaison Officer also shared other success stories with Uncle Frank, which gave him confidence in his ability to manage diabetes.

Exercise and diabetes

Uncle Frank got support from a range of allied health professionals, including an Accredited Exercise Physiologist. Exercise Physiologists are specially trained to use exercise to both prevent and manage a range of chronic conditions. Research has shown that exercise is beneficial for those living with (or at risk of developing) diabetes. It makes insulin work better, helps to maintain a healthy weight, lowers your blood pressure and can reduce the risk of developing heart disease.

Uncle Frank’s Accredited Exercise Physiologists gave him a personalised, targeted and achievable exercise program to build on his strength. This was updated regularly to help him to make continued improvements to his health and fitness.

Indigenous diabetes

Image © Institute for Urban Indigenous Health LTD 2019

Some of the other team members who continue to support Uncle Frank include:
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Worker – who helped him to quit smoking
  • Diabetes Educator – to understand how blood sugar levels work, the things that impact on his diabetes and the importance of lifestyle change to reduce the long term impacts of his condition.
  • Podiatrist – to check his feet and circulation to help him move around more easily
  • Dietitian – to yarn about what healthy meals he could cook at home, how to cook healthy on a budget, and what foods impacted on his condition.
  • Pharmacist – to discuss the medication he was prescribed
  • Psychologist – to help him address the social and emotional barriers he was facing in looking after his health
  • Optometrist – for an initial diabetic retinopathy check, to identify early and prevent any conditions developing
  • Dentist – to help him keep on top of his oral health.

By working alongside his exercise physiologist (and other health professionals), Uncle Frank increased his knowledge and understanding of his health, which empowered him to make positive changes and healthier choices to feel better about himself.

He also spends more quality time with family which made him a role model for his family and community.

What can I do today?

Your health journey is uniquely yours and you can change the direction of that path at any time. Having a deadly partnership and connection with your Health Service is step one in that journey. Here are some other tips:

Have a good connection with your GP

You need to feel comfortable around them. You need to be able to talk honestly and openly with your GP, and you need to build trust. If you don’t have a good connection with your GP, ask around. See if a trusted friend or family member like their GP, and maybe consider changing if you think it would help.

Share your family history of chronic diseases

It’s hand for health professionals to know your family history when supporting you on your health journey.

Ask questions

Take a list of things you want to talk to your GP about when you see them. It is easy to feel rushed and forget things. You could also take a family member or friend to support you. Understand your results, and if you don’t, ask what they mean! Your Aboriginal Health Worker or nurse can also help support you with this.

Know your numbers

Know your normal numbers for different health measurements. This includes things like blood pressure, weight and cholesterol. Keep track of their movements and let your GP know how you’re progressing.

Have a list of your medications with you

This is helpful to share with different health professionals and also in case of an emergency.

Maximise your Medicare referrals

If you have diabetes and identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, your GP might be able to use different referral forms to other health professionals to help you in your health journey – this gives you up to 19 referrable appointments instead of just the 5 you know might know about.

What next?

Hopefully, sharing Uncle Frank’s story helps others to take control of their health. By taking control of our journey, we are physically, socially, emotionally and spiritually stronger – creating a different story for our family and community.

If you need some help to get started, visit your local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Controlled Health Service or contact an Accredited Exercise Physiologist near you.

Written by Katrina Ghidella. Katrina is an Accredited Exercise Physiologist at the Institute for Urban Indigenous Health, and has been working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations for 10 years.

exercise right blog

*not his real name