Diabetes Research Abounds at UTEP
By Laura L. Acosta
More than seven percent of El Pasoans are living with diabetes. If ignored, the disease can cause long-term complications such as heart and kidney disease and blindness.
November has been designated American Diabetes Month by the American Diabetes Association to raise awareness of the disease and its serious complications.
Researchers at The University of Texas at El Paso are at the forefront of diabetes research, specifically looking at the impact that the disease has had on Hispanics living along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Nelda C. Martinez, Ph.D, RN, an associate professor and director for the Center for Nursing Research and Evaluation at UTEP's School of Nursing, has dedicated most of her career to studying the disease.
She has looked at the self-management practices of Hispanics with diabetes and developed a Spanish/English language instrument to measure self-care, which is necessary for glucose control and to prevent complications from the disease.
“My focus is looking at diabetes and diabetes education and people self-managing once they go home,” Martinez said. “Whether it’s in the hospital or through diabetes education classes, we are finding out what they have learned from diabetes education programs and services.”
One of the things that Martinez learned was that instruments that were used in diabetes education were not properly translated from English into Spanish.
Martinez developed a cross-cultural Spanish language translation of general diabetes knowledge tests, which measured such factors as foot care knowledge.
“They were instruments for measurements of how to care for their feet or lower extremities,” she said. “Other ones looked at signs and symptoms of neuropathy, where they lose the sensation in their feet and their toes, and there is always a complication with that.”
Martinez’s other studies have looked at the role that spirituality plays for Hispanics with diabetes. She developed an instrument that measures religious coping to see how spirituality influences the decisions diabetics make about their self-care.
Currently, she is working on a study that involves social networking. According to Martinez, the people with whom diabetics interact on a daily basis can have a direct affect on their daily glucose control.
“Social networking analysis and social networking research is really providing us a way of looking at all the ties that (diabetics) have with significant people to help them live their daily lives with diabetes,” Martinez said.
Social networking will enable Martinez to see how social interactions affect elderly diabetics.
“We’re going to look at older adults to find out about their lives and their social ties,” she said.
Researchers also are looking at the emotional toll that diabetes can have on people, such as depression.
As part of her dissertation, Guillermina Solis, clinical nursing instructor at UTEP’s School of Nursing, evaluated 141 diabetics whose average age was 63 and who had been living with the disease for between one and 40 years, to draw a profile of their psychological states and see the prevalence of depression.
Solis found that even though the disease was being treated clinically, the psychological needs of the patient had been neglected.
“I found a large number of individuals with depression,” said Solis, who will receive her Ph.D. in December. “One of the things they have is loss of interest and fatigue, which can lead to poor physical health.”
Solis said that one of the positive things to come out of her study is an increased awareness among clinicians to look at the psychological state of a person.
A nurse practitioner for 15 years, Solis said that at least 60 percent of her patients are diabetic. She attributes the high number to El Paso’s large Hispanic population, a genetic predisposition to the disease and lifestyle factors including a high obesity rate.
“We have a high carbohydrate, high fat intake and we get very little exercise. We’re so stressed so we pay very little attention to what we eat and what we do,” she said.
However, she said that depression can be resolved on its own.
“Most of us have it. We want to alert people of the possibility of it being there, how we can overcome it and how it does not hinder us long term.”