Proper education about the use and limitations of medical technologies like insulin pumps are vital to ensuring good health.

“It provides much more freedom than is offered by traditional insulin injection schedules.”

In type 1 diabetes, the immune system of the body destroys the cells in the pancreas which are essential for the production of insulin. Without insulin, the body has no way to regulate blood sugar, making regular administration from outside the body necessary for survival. An insulin pump is a computerized medical device, worn on the body, which administers insulin through a small catheter under the skin.

“With an insulin pump, the ability to adjust how much insulin the pump is delivering allows much greater flexibility around things like exercise and snacks,” says Dr. Ian Blumer, author of Diabetes for Canadians for Dummies. “It provides much more freedom than is offered by traditional insulin injection schedules.” This is especially valuable for young children, whose frequent meals and active lifestyles can make the maintenance of a healthy blood sugar level extremely challenging.

Children play by their own rules

The proper use of insulin pumps presents some particular hurdles for young children and it’s important to be realistic about the limitations of these devices. “Kids are going to run around the playground,” says Dr. Blumer. “They’re going to roll around in the dirt. Very young kids may yank at the pump. You need to assess whether the pump will stay attached in these situations. But the limitation isn’t the age of the child per se, it’s the lifestyle that comes with being that age.”

Parents, children, and healthcare professionals must work together to find the technologies and routines that best suit each individual child. “Parents need to look at what features are important for their family,” says paediatrician Valerie Lewis.

“Does it need to be waterproof, does it need to be tubeless, does it need to have low blood sugar suspend functions, and does it need to be compatible with a particular sensor? For most families, ease of use will be the primary consideration.”

And, for some children, a pump may not be the right solution. In every case, any technology must be integrated into a complete diabetes plan.

Technology, properly used, enhances life

Once a good match is found, the opportunities for insulin pumps to improve quality of life for children and their families are substantial. “Pumps provide the ability for much smoother control, and thus the child feels better,” says Dr. Lewis.

“It doesn’t feel good when your blood sugar is going up and down, even if the average is fine. So a lot of people find that when they go on a pump, they get their child back. Their personalities are just happier.”

For all these reasons, the use of insulin pumps to help children with type 1 diabetes is rising in Canada, though there are still cost issues putting them out of the reach of some families, as well as concerns about improper use. “The kids understand the technology pretty well,” says Dr. Lewis, “It’s the parents that often need help keeping up. The parents need to stay involved and be a partner if they want to raise a healthy child with diabetes.”

Happily, as insulin pump technology continues to improve, and with new developments on the horizon, an increasingly unrestricted childhood with type 1 diabetes is becoming a reality for more and more families.