In terms of living with diabetes, a disease in which the body has trouble regulating its blood sugar, there really is an app for that.
Technological advancements are helping the more than 26 million Americans who deal with diabetes. Examples include apps for smartphones and tablets that allow users to monitor their blood sugar levels and store the information in a cloud for easy access by patients and, should they choose, their families and their doctors.
Many of these apps are free like Glucose Buddy Diabetes Helper, TrackMyShots, Diabetes Buddy Lite, Fooducate and Diabetes Log. The Continuous Glucose Monitoring (CGM) system reveals a clear picture of glucose levels so that patients, along with their care providers, can take quick action should blood sugar levels rise or fall rapidly.
“We are hoping to cure diabetes and that doesn’t look like around the corner, but we are doing a better job in keeping patients healthy and they won’t have residual effects,” said Dr. Robin Nemery, a pediatric endocrinologist for Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood.
“Technology is moving in that direction, as far as communicating with iPhones and other electronic devices remotely, and that’s particularly helpful. It helps parents ‘be’ with their children all the time and gives the ability to know what’s happening in real time,” Nemery said.
The CGM sensors are the most significant leap forward in monitoring blood sugar, Nemery said. Today, the devices, which cost about $1,300 to $1,500, have moved from in-office use only to easily portable home use.
The information gleaned from the CGM can be read from a cloud-based storage system by up to five people, thanks to the latest Apple iOS update. That means parents can monitor their children’s readings as well as physicians from the field.
The CGM unit uses a sensor, a titanium filament the size of a fine human hair, inserted under the skin by the patient. The sensor monitors the interstitial glucose fluid between the cells every five seconds and provides a read-out that can tell whether blood sugar is rising or falling and its rate of change. By detailing trends, the CGM and apps can help people make informed decisions.
“It’s invaluable in adding a whole new dimension to decision making,” Nemery said. “There’s no other medical condition other than diabetes where the outcome is incumbent on the patient’s ability to gather data on themselves and make medical decisions on what they are going to do — food choices, exercise.”
Wendy Rothenberg’s son Evan, 9, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes 11 months ago and it was a complete shock to the Weston family. Diabetes doesn’t run in the family, she said. Evan’s three siblings, two older, one younger, do not have diabetes.
Evan went into diabetic ketoacidosis, a shortage of insulin and a medical emergency whose signs include vomiting, dehydration, confusion and breathing problems.
“It was overwhelming and scary and he’s done wonderful since,” Rothenberg said. “It’s amazing the transformation in him and in my whole family, and how we have learned how to go through a meal and our day. We are mostly back to a normal life now.”
Evan has used the CGM since August, and its results are fed wireless into a receiver the size of a small iPod. If Evan’s blood sugar rises or falls, the device can be set to vibrate or sound an alarm and a screen continuously updates.
“For a child, he doesn’t have to constantly wonder, ‘Am I high or low?’ And, especially for the parents at night, this changed our nights. It was scary to see a child sleeping. Is he low? Is he breathing? And for a 9-year-old boy, when he’s doing sports, which burns off a lot of sugars, this alerts him to how he’s doing and does he need to eat something,” Rothenberg said.
Evan also uses the free app, Fast Food, at restaurants. The app, not named to reference fast food chains but rather to give food content information rapidly, gives carb counts at numerous chains so that while he’s checking out the menu he can make healthier choices.
Registered dietician Marina Chaparro, a diabetes educator at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood, looks for apps that have educational and game components built into the design. There are more for teens and adults, she said, but new apps marketed to children with Type 1 diabetes are beginning to arrive regularly.
“Kids can play and learn how to count carbs and how to count insulin and get a sense of what diabetes is in a fun and techy way. Most kids are born with computers in front of them,” Chaparro said, citing Counting Carbs With Lenny, Calorie King, Wave Sense and My Sugr as free or low cost apps she’s had success with for her patients, like Evan.
Chaparro not only recommends the apps and CGM, but she’s a user, too. Chaparro, like Evan, is a Type 1 diabetic.
“These are life-saving for kids, Type 1s,” she said. “This is going to be the new standard of care.”
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Tracking blood sugar
In addition to Continuous Glucose Monitoring (CGM) systems, which cost about $1,500 and come with a doctor’s referral and might be covered by insurance, there are more than 1,000 iOS and Android apps to help people manage Type 1 and 2 diabetes.
Here are a few recommended by Memorial Health System and UF Diabetes Institute to consider. Some free apps have upgrades that provide more functions for a price:
Glucose Buddy Diabetes Logbook. Allows you to log glucose numbers, carbohydrate consumption, insulin dosages and activities. View data on glucosebuddy.com account and share with physician, family. Free.
Fastfood Check. Complete menus across 105 restaurants provides nutritional details so users can design their own meals and monitor nutritional requirements. Free.
TrackMyShots. A Windows-based phone app that allows users to log their daily injections. Free.
OnTrackDiabetes. A free Android app helps parents manage their child’s diabetes by tracking blood sugar, food, medication, blood pressure, pulse, exercise and weight.
dLife Diabetes Companion. Comprehensive mobile app provides tools to manage diabetes such as videos, answers to questions through large Q&A database, food and recipe tips, and log and track over time blood glucose, insulin. Free.
Diabetes Companion by My Sugr. The app touts “diabetes management made fun (almost...)” and through games and social-sharing functions, lets users track diabetes data, get feedback, motivation. Free.
RapidCalc Diabetes Manager. Insulin dose calculator, with tracking of insulin, automatic carbohydrate ratio and blood glucose target selection, along with charting and statistics features. $7.99, iTunes app store.
CalorieKing Food Search. Quick way to check calories, carbs and fat in more than 70,000 foods and 260 restaurants. Free.
Diabetes App Lite. Blood sugar control lets you track factors that influence blood sugar level, monitor fluctuations, plan ahead and share data with doctors. Free.
Fooducate. Scan food products while shopping to identify what really is in the product and allows you to identify foods high in sugar, fats and other ingredients to avoid. Free.
Wave Sense Diabetes Manager. Track glucose results, carb intake, and insulin doses, review the data with charts and graphs. Includes videos and access to others living with diabetes. Free.
Carb Counting With Lenny. A fun app geared to children. Lenny the lion helps Type 1 patients manage diabetes through food guides and games. Free.