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The Benefits of Diabetes Summer Camps

April 6, 2022
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Now that the world is beginning to re-open and take us back to pre-pandemic times, we’re all trying to figure out how to take advantage of our renewed sense of freedom. If you have children, you’re probably starting to look at the calendar and figure out what summer camp options are available near you. CWD has you covered with a comprehensive list of diabetes camps all over the United States listed by state.

Peer Support Matters1

Most of you reading this can probably remember the first time you met someone else that has diabetes or has a child with diabetes. If you have not had the opportunity to meet someone yet, we hope you can soon. There is an amazing sense of relief, camaraderie, and support in knowing that when you’re venting about the many challenges diabetes brings your household, the person listening truly gets it. Having support is important for the person with diabetes and their loved ones who help care for them, which means you caregivers – don’t forget to take care of yourself, too!

In a study from 2019 that looked at 44 diabetes camps across the United States with data from 2,488 children and 2,563 parents, most children benefitted from improved psychosocial outcomes after attending diabetes camp.2 Participants completed online surveys that were age- appropriate pre- and post-camp. This was the largest diabetes camp study that has been completed to date and was completed by researchers who published earlier data on diabetes camps at a smaller scale.

Some notable results from this study:

  • Both parents and children who participated had a significant decrease in diabetes-related distress after camp
    • The exception was adolescents with higher HbA1c levels before camp
  • Both groups also felt more confident in diabetes self-management skills after attending camp
    • Many parents reported their child taking on more diabetes self-management tasks after attending diabetes camp
    • Parents also felt more confident in diabetes care tasks
  • The more the child or adolescent improved in reported distress, the more the parent also improved
    • When one person is feeling better in the household, the others often follow

Taking a Break and Knowing your Child is Safe

Of course, we all love our children, but spending every waking moment with them is exhausting, and adding diabetes does not help to calm the chaos. Diabetes camp, or diabetes conferences like Friends for Life (FFL), offer parents or caregivers a reprieve from the constant care of diabetes. Both camp and FFL conferences are well-staffed with diabetes educators, nurses, psychologists or social workers, and endocrinologists to make sure your child is well cared for. It can also be a bit of a reprieve for the children since they have the additional assistance of camp counselors and camp healthcare providers. There’s also a dietitian who does the carb counts at camp and at Friends for Life– which is such a nice treat!

Learning New Things at Camp

Additionally, as mentioned in the large camp study, many camp attendees end up trying new things at camp that they wouldn’t normally try at home.2 Campers’ “firsts” are typically celebrated, which gives positive reinforcement for new self-care behaviors. In my experience at diabetes camp, I’ve seen many people with diabetes comparing infusion set locations, injection techniques, and tips and tricks on keeping devices on skin for longer duration (always a hot topic at summer camp), to name a few. The campers also get to participate in experiential learning, meaning they’re learning while doing. This can be a very effective way of learning, not to mention more fun than sitting in a lecture!

Challenges with Camp

As with anything, there are always benefits and challenges. Aside from the kids who are terrified of bugs and nature, camps can be costly and difficult from the perspective of transportation. In a study looking at disparities and barriers to diabetes camp attendance, the most common challenges were:3

  1. Not knowing about camps
  2. Lack of access to transportation
  3. Difficulty in paying for the camp

There are usually scholarships available for camps and for Friends for Life conferences, but it depends on the camp and the funding. Checking with your local camp, healthcare team, or a group called Camps Angels are your best bet for finding scholarship information.

Now that you have learned all about diabetes camps, and how beneficial they can be for people with diabetes, you can help with the first barrier of not knowing and tell your contacts in the diabetes community. Most often word of mouth is the way that people learn about camps, and about CWD and Friends for Life as well. The more that studies are published that give evidence that camps are helpful, the more that healthcare providers will encourage camp attendance.

Pack your bug spray, sleeping bag, lots of extra tape, and have a great time!

  1. Why We Need Friends with Diabetes (FWD)
  2. Diabetes camp still matters: Relationships with diabetes-specific distress, strengths, and self-care skills
  3. Assessing disparities in barriers to attending pediatric diabetes camp

Written and clinically reviewed by Marissa Town, RN, BSN, CDCES