New program links diabetes patients with resources

The Intrepid Healthy Lifestyle Hunter was created by faculty from the University of Idaho extension program, the school of family and consumer sciences, the college of art and architecture’s virtual technology and design and the college of business and economics.

Its purpose, said SeAnne Safaii of the UI extension staff, is to reach people 18 to 28 years old who often fall through the cracks between pediatric and older adult health care related to diabetes.

“They tend to fall off the grid for medical providers and health care,” Safaii said.

People in that age group “are fairly headstrong (thinking) ‘I can do it myself.’ But they often don’t have medical insurance or they’re going off to college and get dropped off their parents’ insurance. So there are just a multitude of risk factors.”

The program started two years ago and was funded through an $800,000 grant from the National Institute of Health. Safaii said the university is seeking an extension of the grant to further develop the program and eventually make it available to the general public.

Ninety-seven participants were divided into two groups – one that received diabetes and lifestyle instruction face-to-face and the second group that went through the program using an avatar in a virtual world.

“What we found is that they liked the concept of both education and discussion groups,” Safaii said. “The only thing we found that was an ‘aha!’ to us, the virtual group wanted to bond with each other face-to-face before going into that world.”

Safaii said she was surprised by the finding because “I thought that sort of anonymity would have been a beneficial factor.”

The program is being modified to allow participants to meet their health care providers and others in the group first through Facebook before venturing into the virtual world.

Although the program developers tried to replicate the virtual world as much as the real world, “it’s difficult because there’s more stimuli in the real world. In the virtual world everything has to be a power-point presentation. They wanted more interactive pieces. So we are developing a cafe where they can order food and play a game ordering food. We also will have a virtual kitchen where they can take their avatars in and learn how to prepare virtual food and recipes, then they can do it in real life.”

Safaii said the future of the program is not yet clear, but it is hoped it can eventually be opened to all age groups that want to play and learn about living with diabetes.

“It’s a pretty fascinating world in there,” she said, referring to the virtual program. Participants are “changing their lifestyle and being held accountable. So this age group (is) so busy that they forget to eat, they forget to check their blood sugar, they crash and burn all the time.

“And they go out socializing and drinking – that you really can’t do when you have diabetes. So one of our classes teaches them skills on how to go out with your friends. If you drink alcohol, what do you do?”

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Information from: Lewiston Tribune, http://www.lmtribune.com