Ithaca College psychology professor Mary Turner DePalma and her colleagues Matthew Camporese ’05 and Julia Rollison ’05 have shed new light on diabetes and patients’ mentalities.
The extensive research found that information about people’s perceptions on how they got diabetes influences how well they later manage the disease.
DePalma distributed an online survey to male and female Caucasians who had diabetes in the community. No other racial groups were surveyed in order to isolate ethnic disparities with the disease. However, DePalma is now conducting research on other ethnicities.
She said she was intrigued by how cultural understandings of disease information and causality are used differently by people. The survey included questions about disease diagnosis, mood levels, lifestyle choices, social support and the ways in which the individuals managed their diabetes.
She found people with diabetes who see themselves as responsible for their disease blame themselves for making poor lifestyle choices and are far less likely to try to improve their condition.
Nearly 26 million children and adults in the United States have diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. Another 79 million Americans have pre-diabetes and are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
DePalma has published articles in the past regarding the importance of disease causality to people, and how they used that information to make judgments about others.
“We wanted to get out of the lab and get out and try to think about ways in which we might help people,” she said.
The research team took two years to collect all the information and write the report.
Camporese said he was drawn to the study because of his interest in health sciences and partly by its political implications.
“Our health care system was sort of propelling itself in that direction of trying to determine whether or not each patient is responsible for the onset of his or her disease,” he said.
Camporese also said it is necessary to be aware of the potential for “discrimination and prejudice” from health care systems, which could negatively affect a person’s disease management by altering their ability to take care of their illness by feeling personally responsible.
Rollison said she has always been interested in health and motivational research, and her work with DePalma on the study has translated into her post-graduate career.
She is also thinking of doing her dissertation in a similar area of study, with motivational and health-related attitudes.
“It’s actually kind of stuck with me the whole way through,” Rollison said.
DePalma is in the process of writing a paper for a similar study, which expands on her previous one. This study is focused on Native Americans in particular, an ethnic group which is disproportionately affected by diabetes. The study found an entirely different pattern of results. This basis, DePalma said, is the stepping stone for future research.
“Now we’re semi-obligated to look at other groups like Latinos, Asian Americans and Latin Americans who are also disproportionately affected by diabetes to see how these groups use information about disease causality,” she said.