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Mapping your plan to control blood glucose with the help of diabetes education

Conversation Maps® are being used by UMass Memorial Diabetes Center of Excellence educators to teach self-management

By: UMass Diabetes Center of Excellence

The UMass Diabetes Center of Excellence (DCOE) offers an extensive self-management education program recognized by the American Diabetes Association. It’s designed to provide information, motivation and support. Diabetes educators at UMass Memorial utilize Conversation Maps® during to help people with lifestyle changes such as healthy eating, medication management, physical activity and more. 

What are Diabetes Conversation Maps?

Conversation Maps® are designed to promote interactive discussion in a small group setting of people living with diabetes. Each map addresses a different topic area to assist with self-management of the disease. 

”The visual aspect of the Conversation Maps® has been found to encourage interaction among those attending our diabetes education workshops. Participants are benefiting from the experiences of others, and realize that they are not alone,” said Cheryl Barry, RN, MS, CDCES, Manager of Adult Diabetes Education at the UMass DCOE. “Using these maps helps to empower people to better control their diabetes through self-management."


Lowering A1c with Diabetes Education

Diabetes education has proven to lower A1c by as much as 1% (similar to adding a medication but without the side effects). Research shows that people who received diabetes education are more likely to take medications as prescribed and control their blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. As a result, those people have lower health costs.

The American Diabetes Association recommends at least 10 hours of diabetes education. Medicare benefits include 10 hours of initial education plus 2 hours of follow-up each year. Commercial insurance offers similar benefits. More than half of the 35 million Americans diagnosed with diabetes have not taken advantage of the benefits of diabetes education.

Patient Success Story: Kevin Brady

Kevin was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes during his mid 50’s. At first, he didn’t pay attention to it or respect it. “I didn’t feel sick,” he said. “I had heard about all of the bad things that diabetes can lead to, but I didn’t feel any urgency to do anything about it.”

Five years later, was taking the diabetes medication prescribed by his primary care physician, but did little else to monitor and manage his blood sugars. Eventually Kevin developed neuropathy in his feet and numbness in his hands. He was also tired all the time. 

“They kept increasing my medication dosage,” he said. “I modified my diet, but my blood sugars still went very high.” About two years ago Kevin developed problems with his liver and heart. When his doctor attributed it to uncontrolled blood sugars, he decided it was finally time to take action. His primary care physician referred him to the introductory diabetes education workshop offered at the DCOE.

“After the first session, I knew it was different than when people tried to teach this stuff to me in the past,” he said. “She [diabetes educator Cheryl Barry] not only explained what we needed to do, but also provided a detailed game plan and described how to go about it, as well as the reasoning behind each modification.”

Kevin has since lost 40 lbs! He is eating healthy, exercising regularly, has much more energy and his blood sugars are under control. “The workshops made it clear that the only way to get results is to take action. I’m still enjoying my favorite foods, but in moderation.”

“We’re very proud of Kevin,” said Barry. “When we first met, his A1c was 8%. He’s since brought it down to 6% and equally important, has maintained it!”

Kevin raved about how the information provided during the workshops was presented in a new and refreshing manner. “Cheryl made it clear that it’s up to us to implement what we were learning,” he said. “Instead of simply receiving a to-do list, it was interactive. We discussed specific examples and she made the information relevant and useful.”  

In the past Kevin had eaten food that he thought was healthy, however he didn’t understand the different types of carbohydrates, sugars, fiber, and how the body processes them. The diabetes education workshops taught him what to look for on nutrition labels and what it all means. He learned basic carb counting, appropriate portion sizes and that he should be eating less food per meal/snack, but more often throughout the day.

“I started weighing and measuring my portions and began to see a difference," he said. “It was amazing to me how little needed to be eliminated from my diet, but instead to simply adhere to portion control.”

While he had been going to the gym over the years, Kevin recently learned which cardio and resistance strength training exercises would help him work more efficiently to get better results.

“I was exercising blindly,” he said. “Now I have a structured plan that mixes up my workouts.” He says that planning is key to his success. “I now have a daily meal plan and strategies for eating out at restaurants or at other people’s homes.”

Kevin also enjoyed the interactive nature of the workshops. He found it beneficial to meet and speak with other people who had been struggling with similar challenges. Attending the four sessions made him realize that diabetes is a serious condition and must be dealt with to avoid future complications. His new diabetes education provided the information, tools and resources to successfully manage it daily. “Take it one day at a time and make gradual changes,” he said.

By controlling his blood sugar, Kevin’s liver and cardiac issues are under control, and his usually low blood pressure is now normal. The neuropathy is “better than it was” and he’s taking less medication! 

“I’m in my 60’s and plan to live for another 30 years,” he said with a smile. “Suddenly 80 isn’t as old as it used to be!”       

Register for Education Workshops 

Ask your physician or diabetes care team to provide a referral for either a group education workshop or a one-on-one education appointment. For more information about the Diabetes Education Program at the UMass Diabetes Center of Excellence, email: or call (508) 334-3206.

Diabetes Education Resources

These videos and informational resources cover a wide variety of self-management topics for all people living with diabetes and their families