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Technological advances in blood glucose testing devices

by Isabel Fawcett

Blood glucose monitoring has come a long way, baby. From annoyingly painful and repetitive finger-pricks, many diabetics now have more blood glucose testing options than ever before. Televised commercials tout painless ways for diabetics to test their blood glucose levels. This is great news for many diabetics.

The ads on television sound too good to be true. Is painless blood glucose testing a reality for diabetics? It is. Blood glucose testing has come a long way from recurring painful finger pricks to gentler testing alternatives for many diabetics.

Blood Glucose Finger Pricks

Decades ago, I was foolish enough to believe Mom when she insisted it was "nothing" for her to do her blood glucose finger-prick tests. She'd say this as I repeatedly looked away, wincing at the sight of her blood glucose testing regimen multiple times daily. So, I allowed her to prick my finger. What was I thinking?

I'm ashamed to admit how painful that single finger prick was for me in my 20's. Back then, I told Mom that was the last time I would allow her to make a sucker out of me. We both enjoyed a good laugh, but only after my finger stopped smarting.

Fast-forward three decades. I am now Mom's full-time caregiver. Her daily diabetic blood glucose testing regimen is still accomplished through multiple finger pricks daily.

New Age in Blood Glucose Testing

The new age of blood glucose testing is here. Diabetics have novel devices to assist them in testing their blood glucose levels daily.

  • Continuous Blood Glucose Testing


The blood glucose sensor device is placed subcutaneously (under the skin) to measure diabetics' blood glucose levels. The blood glucose sensor is priced between $1,000 - $2,000 and above. The sensor must be moved frequently. Even with the blood glucose sensor, periodic finger-pricks for sugar checks are recommended for diabetics.

  • Skin Testing Device


A "Gluco Watch" device is like a wristwatch. Gluco Watch tests and measures blood glucose levels via low-dose electrical currents to the diabetic's skin as it draws blood glucose information to the device. *Gluco Watch is better than having to prick one's fingers multiple times daily.

*Diabetics using Gluco Watch should do finger-prick tests as advised to calibrate the device.

  • Infrared Testing Device


This glucose testing device uses a beam of light to penetrate the skin and measure blood glucose. (Diabetics using the infrared testing device are encouraged to perform periodic finger prick testing to validate and confirm blood sugar readings.)

Sigh! Technological advances notwithstanding, finger pricks remain an old faithful tradition in diabetes treatment.

Alternating Body Test Sites: Sometimes Less Painful?

There are alternate, sometimes less painful glucose testing sites on the human body.

One of my diabetic friends extracts his blood drop for glucose testing from the webbed area of skin between his thumb and index finger. I can't imagine, personally. Then again, I am not diabetic. He is, and says it is less painful than traditional finger pricks. At least he hasn't told me it's "nothing."

Having served as a human guinea pig to a diabetic once, I now take my friend at his word. I prefer to not allow myself to be suckered twice. Fool me once, shame on you (Mom.) Fool me twice, shame on me. As my fellow caregivers may imagine, there will not be a second, or a third time, for me to become a human pin cushion.

Another alternate blood glucose testing site may be a diabetic's abdomen, also an insulin injection rotation site. I regularly rotate Mom's insulin injection sites, including using her abdomen occasionally to administer her prescribed insulin. Similarly, a diabetic's thigh may be an alternate site for blood glucose testing, subject to treating physicians' input.

There may be medical contraindications which preclude using certain parts of a diabetic's body as an alternate blood glucose testing site, especially if an elder has multiple chronic diseases.

Decisions

As individuals' bodies differ, not every available blood glucose testing device may be ideal for all diabetics.

Mom is an octogenarian with multiple chronic health issues. Now that I am her full-time caregiver, I still honor her traditional choice of finger-pricks as the tried-and-true method of blood glucose testing that it has been in the treatment of diabetes.

The caregiver concession I made to advances in glucose testing devices is seamless. More than a year ago, I chose a newer model blood glucose testing device which requires less blood extraction to complete the blood glucose test.

The AccuChek Aviva device has been revolutionary for Mom. Her former device added insult to injury by requiring excessive squeezing and pumping of fingers to yield sufficient blood for testing. Frustrating comes to mind.

Lest I am judged harshly by someone who has not walked a mile in my caregiver's shoes, changes in routine can be confusing to some elders. I will not put my soon-to-be 85 year old mother through warp speed technological advances if the newer device and/or testing protocol would confuse her.

I sincerely thank Mom each time I complete her blood sugar testing. My hat's off to my mother for enduring 30-plus years of finger pricks. I'm amazed that she replies, "You're welcome."

Mom has earned her stripes, including as a courageous and pioneering diabetic. If her diabetic methodology isn't broken, I will not force her into the brave new world of blood glucose testing devices. I keep her eldercare routines simple and familiar to her.

Some things are just common sense.

Resources and Additional Information

The Wise Diabetic, Blood Sugar Monitor, Avoid the Prick: Get a Blood Sugar Monitor without the Pain, Michael Dinsmore, April 3, 2008.

• American Diabetes Association, Checking Your Blood Glucose.

• American Diabetes Association's Consumer Guide, Diabetes Forecast, The Healthy Living Magazine, Blood Glucose Meters, Katie Bunker, January 2010.