Republish this article
25th January 2016

Children with Type 1 Diabetes Find a Friend

A Type 1 Diabetes diagnosis is not easy on kids. Between food limitations, symptoms and needles, children often feel confused and isolated.  But a new toy offers kids the chance to learn about diabetes from a friend who “gets it.”

A Type 1 Diabetes (T1D) diagnosis can be hard on kids. First, there’s the learning curve of having to figure out carb counting, blood sugar monitoring, and insulin injections. Then there’s the awkward social aspect of having to check blood sugar levels at school or explain what diabetes is to a friend.

Many kids find a T1D diagnosis isolating, but a toy currently in development has the potential to change that. Jerry the Bear is a cosy, snuggly best friend on the outside, with a high-tech educational system on the inside specifically designed for children diagnosed with T1D.

Jerry comes with a backpack, 15 food cards, 6 animated storybooks, and an insulin pen. Kids can care for Jerry by feeding him a healthy diet, monitoring his glucose levels, and administering insulin to keep him healthy. Interacting with Jerry helps children with T1D become more familiar with the practices and terminologies involved in living with diabetes – all through play.

Kids can feed Jerry by swiping foods over his mouth, which teaches them about counting carbohydrates. They can check his blood sugar level by squeezing his fingers, and give him insulin using either the included insulin pen or the pump on his touch screen.

Jerry also encourages kids to talk about how they feelboth physically and emotionally. He helps them learn to recognize and talk about their symptoms when they don’t feel right, and to take control of their health.

Jerry the Bear is just one of many technological developments in the diabetes management arena. New medical devices are also beginning to change what living with diabetes can look like. Continuous glucose monitoring, the newest way to monitor blood sugar levels,is using monitors attached to the body to check blood glucose level every few minutes. Another emerging treatment still under development is an artificial pancreas, which links a continuous glucose monitor to an insulin pump. The device automatically monitors the blood sugar in a person’s system and delivers the appropriate amount of insulin to keep them healthy.

Jerry the Bear has attracted a growing number of supporters since it was first developed in 2012.  Last year, Jerry was in 25% of all pediatric endocrinologist waiting rooms in the United States, and reached 4% of kids newly diagnosed with T1D.

This year, Jerry the Bear was awarded a Phase 1 SBIR grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the United States still, and two other models of Jerry the Bear were created. The Health & Wellness model helps children learn about nutrition, exercise, and hygiene, while the Food Allergies version helps children build confidence while learning how to avoid their allergens.

Jerry’s creators have a mission: to get Jerry into the hands of every child newly diagnosed with T1D. For kids who may feel alone and scared with their new diagnosis, a  snuggly, high-tech friend is definitely something to smile about.