For many school-age children and teens, summertime means not only a holiday from school, but also the opportunity to play and spend time with friends at either day camps or overnight residential camps. For children with diabetes the situation is no different, and with proper planning they too can enjoy a fun-filled, healthy, and safe camp experience. The preparation for day camps is similar to preparation for a family day out or a day trip at school. Make sure your child has all meals and snacks prepared and packed. Except for children who are on a lunchtime injection and are able to administer it themselves, with minor adjustments in timing all insulin injections can be given at home as usual. Similarly, at least 3 daily blood glucose tests can be performed at home, and blood glucose levels can be monitored by a parent. Most children should do a pre-lunch glucose check at camp.
Ask camp staff about the level of activity in which your child will participate. Inform them that your child has diabetes and emphasize the importance of the timing of food intake. The signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia should be explained, and a source of rapid-acting sugar should be supplied to the counsellor to treat a low blood glucose reaction. Furthermore, the camp staff must, like teachers, be told what to do in the event of a severe insulin reaction.
What about overnight camps? Are they safe for children with diabetes?
Absolutely. However, to provide a happy and safe camping experience and to ensure that the principles of daily diabetes care are followed, many diabetes organizations have set up camps especially for children with diabetes. Whenever possible, children and teens with diabetes should have the chance to attend such camps. They are usually staffed by doctors and nurses experienced in the care of children with diabetes. In addition, an experienced dietitian is there to assist the children in meal planning. The programming staff is accustomed to working with campers with diabetes, and develop programs to match the timing of daily diabetes routines.
These camps give children the opportunity to spend several days or weeks with other campers who also have diabetes. Having spent most of the school year integrated with children who do not, many campers are excited to be with other campers who are going through the same stages of disease management. Everybody is doing blood checks, testing urine, taking insulin injections, monitoring diet, and watching for low blood sugar reactions. Some children learn to give their own injections for the first time under the direction of the camp nurse and with the encouragement of their summer friends. For others, especially those from smaller communities, this may be their first experience of not being the only child with diabetes.
Children aren’t the only ones who benefit from camp. Many parents find comfort in knowing that diabetes routines are being followed and that their children are in the care of competent staff familiar with the disease, whether at the campsite or during multi-day canoe trips. They feel secure in the knowledge that blood glucose checks will be done overnight as necessary, as well as during the day, and that extra snacks will be provided when needed. With such a support system, the children can enjoy the full range of camp experiences, including swimming, boating, tripping, crafts, and drama, without the burden of managing their diabetes care alone.
Some children and teens prefer to go to camps not specifically aimed at those with diabetes. If the child or teen has sufficient knowledge, sense of responsibility, and willingness to monitor the condition, this too can be accommodated by proper planning.
Remember that most children attending camp are more active than usual, and have less access to food between meals. As a result, they may require a lower or different insulin dose to avoid hypoglycemic episodes. More frequent blood glucose monitoring will be needed to determine the actual insulin requirement. Whenever possible, choose a camp with a full-time physician and nurse on site who can help deal with diabetes routines and any illness that may occur.