Type 1 Diabetes and Its Impact on Working Life

Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is a disease that never goes away and demands constant monitoring 24/7, 365 days a year. 

For some people, T1D can get in the way of their life plans or career choice. Depending on where you live, having T1D may exclude you from certain occupations such as airplane pilot, police officer, firefighter, etc. However, apart from a few exceptions, there is no reason you shouldn’t be able to pursue the career of your choice.

Impact on well-being at work

A Finnish study looked at the impact of T1D on the well-being at work of 2,500 participants who completed a questionnaire. The researchers found that 70% of participants occasionally or regularly experienced diabetes-related distress at work.

They also reported a significant correlation between high hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) levels and an elevated risk of experiencing distress in the workplace. One plausible hypothesis is that, out of fear of hypoglycemia and its potential impacts (e.g., tasks or responsibilities to perform, judgment from colleagues or superiors), some people may intentionally maintain their blood sugar levels above their target range. People with T1D who have a relatively active job have reported experiencing more diabetes-related distress due to their increased risk of hypoglycemia.   

It’s also important to consider the stigmatization that people with T1D may face and that may affect their glycemic control when, for instance, they withhold from taking their insulin or don’t reveal their illness out of fear of being judged by their colleagues.  

Early retirement

In some cases, the challenges for people with T1D in the workplace can be significant and end up being a burden over time. Another Finnish study has found that people with T1D generally decide to retire four years earlier on average than people without T1D. The study also found that people who have diabetes-related complications retire even earlier than other people with T1D who don’t have any complications.

A variety of factors contribute to the decision to retire; it seems unsurprising that having T1D would play a part in deciding to retire early.

Early retirements have an impact on personal finances and on the economy that cannot be ignored, especially when many years of work and contributions to the economy are at stake. 

We don’t have any data on this issue in Quebec. However, the BETTER registry will allow us to assess, among other things, the impact of T1D on working life. Another goal is to look at the impact of new blood sugar monitoring and insulin administration technology on quality of life and working life. 

This technology needs to be better understood and made more accessible (through RAMQ or insurance), so that people with T1D can be relieved of the distress they experience, especially in their working life. This would benefit not only people with T1D and their loved ones, but also society as a whole.

Register yourself (or your child) to the BETTER registry to participate 
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  • Hakkarainen, P., Moilanen, L., Hänninen, V., Heikkinen, J., & Räsänen, K. (2016). Work-related diabetes distress among Finnish workers with type 1 diabetes: a national cross-sectional survey. Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology, 11(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12995-016-0099-4 
  • Kurkela, O., Forma, L., Ilanne-Parikka, P., Nevalainen, J., & Rissanen, P. (2021). Association of diabetes type and chronic diabetes complications with early exit from the labour force: Register-based study of people with diabetes in Finland. Diabetologia, 64(4), 795–804. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00125-020-05363-6 

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