What Is Wearable Technology for Diabetes?

Beautiful diabetic girl in activewear checking her performance on smartwatch. Diabetic teenage girl with continuous glucose monitor and insulin pump exercising. Concept of daily life with chronic illness, diabetes for teenagers.

College students have a lot of responsibilities to juggle — class schedules, assignments, work, extracurriculars and more. If you’re a student living with diabetes, you likely have even more responsibilities in managing your health. Monitoring your blood glucose levels and keeping them stable is crucial for preventing short-term side effects and long-term health complications.1 

As healthcare becomes even more high-tech, a number of innovations have emerged in technology for diabetes management. For instance, you can use glucose monitoring wearable technology for diabetes to help you stay on top of your health. Every patient’s needs are a little different, so it’s best to talk to your healthcare provider about which types of diabetes technology could be appropriate for you.

In This Article:

What Is Diabetes and How Serious Is It?

Diabetes is a family of diseases involving glucose problems. Blood sugar (or glucose) is the main source of energy for the brain and the cells that compose other tissues in the body.2 However, glucose can't enter the cells by itself; it needs a hormone called insulin (produced by the pancreas) to escort it into the cells. Otherwise, too much glucose builds up in the bloodstream.2

Type 1 Diabetes

In people with type 1 diabetes, the pancreas has trouble making insulin. It might make only a little insulin or none at all. Normally, type 1 diabetes is diagnosed in childhood or adolescence.2

Type 2 Diabetes

People with type 2 diabetes can make insulin, but the cells have trouble using it. Type 1 and type 2 diabetes are both chronic diseases. A third type of diabetes, gestational diabetes, is reversible and only develops during pregnancy, although it's possible for it to transition to type 2 diabetes after birth.2

Managing diabetes properly with medications, diet and exercise can be essential for preventing complications. Both low (hypoglycemia) and high (hyperglycemia) blood sugar are potentially dangerous.1 Furthermore, long-term complications can develop from improper diabetes management, including:3

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage)
  • Diabetic nephropathy (kidney damage)
  • Diabetic retinopathy (eye damage potentially leading to blindness)
  • Skin and mouth problems
  • Depression
  • Fetal complications, including potential death (in gestational diabetes)

As you can see, any wearable device for diabetes, such as glucose monitoring wearables that make tracking and managing blood glucose levels easier (thereby reducing the risk of complications) could be helpful for people living with diabetes.

An Overview of Wearable Technology for Diabetes

Traditionally, diabetes patients have had to check their blood glucose multiple times each day using a glucometer, or blood sugar meter. Typically, using this device involves pricking the finger to obtain a small amount of blood so that the glucometer can measure the amount of glucose in the sample.1

This technology for diabetes management may work well, but not everyone may be eager to prick their fingers multiple times per day. Wearable technology for diabetes offers a solution. The two main types of wearable technologies are continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) systems, which continuously track glucose levels, and insulin pumps, which automatically deliver a dose of insulin when it is needed so that patients don’t have to inject themselves.4

Benefits of Diabetes Technology

There are many benefits of using technology for diabetes management, particularly for older adults. Older adults often have trouble using traditional glucometers, especially older adults with dementia. Individuals with dementia may also fail to recognize the red flags that can indicate hypoglycemia, and they may be more likely to develop hypoglycemia as a result of certain dementia medications.4

Wearables for diabetes can help older adults by providing a less “hands-on” approach to diabetes management, and it can allow elderly patients’ caregivers and clinical providers to better track blood glucose levels.4

Similarly, CGM systems can be especially beneficial for pediatric patients with diabetes. With a CGM system, parents can monitor their children's blood glucose levels more closely without having to use finger pricks.4 

Other benefits of wearable diabetes technology include:5

  • Ability to receive real-time data and trends at any time throughout the day, without the hassle and inconvenience of finger pricks
  • Better adherence to treatment plans
  • More personalized care plans, as doctors have access to a wealth of data
  • The potential for remote monitoring by clinical providers
  • Reduced need for in-person physician appointments

In addition, both CGM systems and insulin pumps may encourage treatment adherence for people who have a phobia of needles. Rather than giving themselves an insulin injection or finger prick, patients can use wearable devices for managing diabetes.

Types of Devices for Managing Diabetes

As previously mentioned, the two main systems for managing diabetes are CGM systems to monitor blood glucose levels and insulin pumps to distribute insulin automatically when needed. There are several brands and models to choose from, with varying features and different intervals at which the sensor must be swapped out (referred to as the length of time for continuous wear).

CGM system options include:4

  • Eversense CGM System: This provides 90 days of continuous wear, with real-time glucose monitoring every five minutes. At the 90-day mark, users must return to a healthcare provider for the placement of a new sensor. This system comes with its own mobile app and also features an on-body vibration alarm if glucose levels rise or fall outside a safe range.
  • Dexcom CGM System: This system provides real-time monitoring every five minutes for 10 days of continuous wear. It also provides alarms and alerts, including a predictive alarm when glucose levels are expected to fall too low within the next 20 minutes. Although this system provides far fewer days of continuous wear than the Eversense system, Dexcom offers other advantages, such as integration with insulin pumps. It can also be used on children as young as two.

Automatic insulin pumps can be especially attractive for patients who dislike giving themselves injections. These wearable devices for diabetes, which typically fit in the palm of one’s hand, are typically worn attached to a belt or an armband. An insulin pump usually connects to a thin tube implanted under the skin, which delivers the insulin.4

Some examples of insulin pumps include:4

  • Insulet Omnipod DASH: Instead of using a tube to pump insulin, this device delivers the hormone via a pod, which must be changed every two to three days. It integrates with a Dexcom sensor via Bluetooth technology. Another perk of this device is that it’s fully waterproof.
  • Tandem t:slim X2: This pump also integrates with the Dexcom sensor. It is capable of automatically adjusting the dose of insulin based on current glucose readings to prevent both glucose highs and lows. Unlike the Insulet Omnipod DASH, it’s not fully waterproof, but it is watertight for up to 30 minutes in up to three feet of water.

In addition to CGM systems and insulin pumps, other types of technology may also prove useful. For example, some diabetes patients may consider wearing an activity/fitness tracker on their wrists. This device, which looks like a smartwatch, can help diabetes patients ensure that they are getting enough exercise.5

Similarly, biometric sensors can track a variety of data types, including information about one’s cardiovascular health. Because cardiovascular health problems are more common in people with diabetes, these types of sensors may help patients stay on top of their health more effectively.5

Schedule a Visit to GCU's Health and Wellness Clinic

Grand Canyon University strives to promote a healthy learning environment for our students, faculty and staff. At the Canyon Health and Wellness Clinic on campus, you can access a range of healthcare services delivered by board-certified nurse practitioners and physicians, including preventive wellness care and chronic disease management assistance. Fill out the form on this page to learn more about joining our supportive learning community in Phoenix. 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, Sept. 30). Manage blood sugar. Retrieved Jan. 18, 2024. 

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Kidney Diseases. (2023, April). What is diabetes? U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved Jan. 18, 2024. 

Mayo Clinic. (2023, Sept. 15). Diabetes. Retrieved Jan. 18, 2024. 

Christiansen, S. (2022, Oct. 9). Wearable tech to manage your diabetes. Verywell Health. Retrieved Jan. 18, 2024.

NOVI Health. (n.d.). How wearable and mobile devices can help people with diabetes. Retrieved Jan. 18, 2024. 

Approved by the director of Health Services on March 1, 2024.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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