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Baby Boomers Who Beat Type 1 Diabetes and Its Complications

Baby boomers and type 1 diabetes complications

Baby boomer's diagnosed with type 1 diabetes decades ago are thriving today and living healthy lives. How did they do it?


Some baby boomers and older adults who were diagnosed with type 1 diabetes decades ago have managed to beat the complications of the disease. Today some of those individuals belong to the Joslin Medalist Program, sponsored by Joslin Diabetes Center, and a number of them have participated in studies that have attempted to determine what makes them different than other people with the disease and the common associated health problems.

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What is the Joslin Medalist Program?
Elliott P. Joslin, MD, started the program in 1948 as a way to recognize individuals with type 1 diabetes who practiced good disease management. Joslin firmly believed that people could minimize their chances of developing complications if they were diligent about self-care.

The program awards 25-year certificates, 50-year bronze medals, 75-year medals, and most recently, its first 80-year medal. Recipients come not only from the United States but from Australia, Brazil, Canada, England, the Philippines, South America, and other countries as well.

The recipient of the 80-year medal was Spencer M. Wallace, Jr., of Fayetteville, New York. Mr. Wallace has been living with type 1 diabetes for 82 years.

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Anyone who has had type 1 diabetes for at least 25 years can join the Program; an application form can be found on the Joslin website. For those who are 50-year medalists, there is an opportunity to participate in a special study that could help change how the disease is treated in the future.

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Joslin Medalist Study
The Joslin Medalist Study was designed to help researchers understand what activities or factors have helped individuals who have had type 1 diabetes for 50 years or longer achieve this milestone. Joslin Diabetes Center is working with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) to conduct its research.

Based on data collected from the first phase of the study, investigators made several important findings.

  • Nearly half of the 50-year medalists had not developed the diabetic complications that usually appear in people who have had the disease for more than 30 years. More specifically, 42.6 percent were free of diabetic retinopathy, 86.9 percent of kidney problems (nephropathy), 39.4 percent of diabetic neuropathy, and 51.5 percent of cardiovascular disease
  • Prevention of diabetes complications depends on both metabolic and genetic factors
  • Individuals who had high levels of plasma carboxyethyl-lysine and pentosidine were 7.2-fold more likely to develop any diabetes complications
  • Medalists had maintained good control of their blood sugar levels over the years
  • Hemoglobin A1c values do not seem to correlate with complications

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Phase two of the study has focused on genetics and further exploration of diabetes complications. Thus far the researchers have discovered that about 40 percent of Medalists have not developed serious vision problems even after having the disease for up to 80 years and that kidney disease affects less than 10 percent of the Medalists.

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What the study’s findings mean
The researchers explain that the Medalists are “likely enriched for protective factors against complications,” and that these factors could “prove useful to the general population with diabetes if they can be used to induce protection against long-term complications.” In addition, the findings indicate that diligent diabetes management is key in beating type 1 diabetes and its complications into the baby boomer years and beyond.

Joslin Medalist Program
Sun JK et al. Protection from retinopathy and other complications in patients with type 1 diabetes of extreme duration: the joslin 50-year medalist study. Diabetes Care 2011 Apr; 34(4): 968-74

Image: Morguefile



Thank you so much. I have a co-worker who is always complaining because of her type-1 diabetes. I call her a “diabetic snob” because she feels she has it tougher than type 2 diabetes. I am going to show her this article tomorrow and tell her she was wrong all along. There is cure. She always says this is an immune disease like AIDS and that there is no cure. And now Elliott P. Joslin, MD, himself states that baby boomers diagnosed with type 1 diabetes decades ago are thriving today and living healthy lives. Thriving, not just surviving, so what is she complaining about? “Hemoglobin A1c values do not seem to correlate with complications.” Wait until I show her this. I think you should rename this article: Type 1 Diabetics who always complain and have complications are the most … people. Thank you for telling the world that most people who make an effort have not complications and most importantly, it can be beaten. And they wonder why no one cares about them
Thank you for writing. Please note, however, that the article does not say there is a cure. Many of the people identified as Medalists have managed to ward off the complications...some of them still did develop them, as noted in the study I referred to. Type 1 diabetes is a challenging disease, and it requires daily diligence to fight off the potential complications. Yes, some people manage to thrive but others do not. I hope you show this article to your coworker in a spirit of hope and as an indication of possibilities and not to tell her she is wrong. Everyone's path is different: they have different doctors, different support systems, different life events, and even different basic biochemistries that can cause them to respond differently to the disease. I wish your coworker the very best.