Editor’s note: This is the final article in AFMC’s yearlong series on diabetes. The other 11 articles were posted on this blog during the first week of each month, beginning with June 2016.

The very best way to manage your diabetes is to learn everything you can about the disease and how it affects you. An easy way to get started on your learning journey is to take a free class, taught by certified educators in your community and designed for adults.

These classes are part of the “diabetes self-management education” (DSME) initiative that is going strong in communities across Arkansas. The six-week classes are for people with diabetes, pre-diabetes, and their relatives and caregivers.

The classes are taught by trained peer educators who have received DSME certification. Some of the teachers are lay-people from your community who also have diabetes. They use plain language and lots of “props” and concrete examples. These are not lectures but hands-on learning. For example, you may be asked to bring your blood glucose meter to class to learn how and when to check blood sugar and what the numbers mean. You’ll learn realistic ways to control food portions and exercises to help keep your blood sugar levels under control.

The classes are fun and the information is easy to remember. You’ll learn real-life skills to help you better manage diabetes and make lasting improvements in your health. Designed for the adult learner, the classes are small – ranging from five to 15 adults from your community. They meet once a week for six weeks, usually for about two hours. There’s always time for questions during and after the classes.

Here are some of the things you will learn:

  • What are diabetes’ risk factors
  • The serious complications caused by diabetes and how to avoid them
  • What to eat and how to improve your eating habits and portion control
  • How different foods affect your blood sugar and how to use nutrition labels
  • How to test and make sense of your blood sugar numbers
  • The kinds of physical activity you need and how it controls blood sugar
  • About your medications and how to use them effectively
  • How diabetes affects your body and every aspect of your overall health
  • To identify signs and symptoms of hypo- and hyperglycemia.
  • Who is on your health care team and how to build partnerships with them
  • The psychological and social effects of diabetes, and how to recognize and cope with stress and depression
  • Problem-solving strategies
  • How to find and effectively use your community’s diabetes resources

You’ll be getting the most up-to-date information on managing diabetes. The curriculum is based on national diabetes care and diabetes self-management guidelines.

These classes are making a difference. DSME classes have significantly reduced serious complications such as heart disease, amputations of lower limbs, kidney failure, nerve damage and blindness, according to the Texas Medical Foundation’s analysis. For example, high-risk pre-diabetic people who completed the classes have reduced their chance of getting diabetes by 11 percent. Class attendees have reduced their body weight by an average of 7 percent and have an 8 percent lower chance of developing diabetes complications. The chance of dying from diabetes has been reduced by 2.3 percent; saving almost 5,400 lives a year. Class participants have also improved outcomes for blood glucose (HBA1c), cholesterol and blood pressure, according to the American Association of Diabetes Educators.

If you or a loved one have diabetes or have pre-diabetes, please consider enrolling in a diabetes self-management course. Gain the power to improve your life, prevent complications and incapacities, and develop self-care skills. Control your diabetes; don’t let it control you.

To find a free diabetes class near you, call toll free 1-877-375-5700, option 2.