Theresa Ikegwuonu is a PhD Research Student at the NMAHP Research Unit of the University of Stirling (The Sunday Times Scottish University of the Year, don’t you know!) who is currently running a study into people’s experiences of having hypos and the impact hypos have on their everyday life. Theresa contacted your soaraway Shoot Up to appeal for volunteers for her study but we forced her to do an interview instead.
So Theresa, give us your Dragon’s Den-style pitch for your current research? What’s it all about?
It is really about finding out people’s views of living with diabetes and their experiences of having hypos (rather than the views of health professionals, so to say, you are in charge).
I’m trying to find out about those aspects of people’s lives hypos can impact upon. From work and employment to things like social life, participating in leisure activities and/or even driving.
If you think about the everyday life of people living with diabetes, what ‘strategies’ do they use to deal with hypos, manage their diabetes, and so on.
The really interesting bit is that I am looking at this over a few months to (hopefully) gain some insights into people’s coping strategies and their views of diabetes.
That all sounds very interesting, but what does it all mean to the diabetic in the street?
Well, at this stage, it is just a chance for people to get involved and to tell me about their personal experiences with diabetes and hypos. In the longer term, my research will hopefully contribute to improvements in health care. Also give new insights and a better understanding of what it really means to live with diabetes.
So what attracted you to diabetes research?
My academic background is actually in social work/public health, so this very much focuses around ‘normal’ people, how they go about their everyday life, how I can support them. With diabetes research in particular, it is about long term conditions and how people manage to live with it every day. I don’t have diabetes myself, but I have close family members who do. It is always important to me, that I can personally relate to the area of research I work in.
What do you think are the most important areas of diabetic research today?
Any research that is relevant to people who actually live with diabetes, research that can lead to improvements in health care, research that ‘makes sense’.
Which is more important – a cure or improving everyday quality of life?
As much as it would be fantastic to find a cure, I believe that improving everyday quality of life should be priority. Things like positive coping strategies that help people enjoy their lives can make a big difference. If you live with a chronic condition, you know it can be anything but fun. So supporting people to meet challenges that they face in their everyday life would be key.
Do you think diabetes research can be a little rarefied, having little effect on diabetic’s everyday lives?
If you look at how much diabetes treatment has improved in the last 20 years, e.g. availability of insulin pumps, flexible insulin therapy, precise measurement of blood sugar with modern medical devices; the fact that there are many options to suit different lifestyles, and the amount of information available about diabetes all highlight the important role research plays in advancing diabetes management, and thereby improving people’s everyday quality of life.
Have you carried out any research on yourself? Such as inducing hypos, etc. If so, did you enjoy it?
No, I haven’t. Generally the researcher cannot be participant at the same time; there would be some conflict of interest. I have not tried inducing a hypo on myself, but I’m sure I would be terrible at managing it!
How can we help with your research?
I am looking for volunteers who would be happy to chat to me about their experiences of living with diabetes and having hypos. Participation would involve one interview, keeping a brief hypo diary for a couple of months, and staying in touch with me during the diary time (via phone and email). I especially need male volunteers, as so far the girls have been quicker to respond! Your help would be greatly appreciated – please do contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org