According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 2014 surveillance data, 29.1 million Americans (or 9.3% of the population) have diabetes. Given this statistic, chances are likely that you know or live with someone affected by diabetes. You may find yourself in a unique role when a significant other, parent, child or friend has such a condition that requires daily, and in some cases, hourly attention.
Given the complexities of relationships, the caregiver or support role will look different in each situation, but there are some general guidelines that may help along the journey. And, yes, it may take some practice and adjustments in attitudes and expectations.
Find the right words
As much as it is within the abilities of the person with diabetes, self-care skills should be encouraged and reinforced. Certainly, nagging or pestering will not be well received by most people (“Did you check your blood sugar this morning?”, “You forgot to take you medicine again?!”, “Are you really going to eat that?”)
Finding the right words and tone of voice may help the person with diabetes to know you care about their health and well-being, and not just being bossy. Remember, that change usually doesn’t happen all at once, but it is a process, a work in progress.
Set small attainable goals
Set small attainable goals that the person with diabetes can agree to and everyone can live with. Make goals specific and try to make the changes together, as a team. You can walk after dinner together at least 4 or 5 times a week. You can stop eating snacks after a certain time at night or change the kinds of desserts or portion sizes of specific foods. If taking medications correctly is an issue, establish a reward system (maybe going to the movies) after a week of meeting a set goal. Rewards, even if small, can be great incentives, especially for kids.
Include your diabetes care team in the conversation
Continue to learn as much about diabetes as possible by attending classes that are available, and asking questions. Certified Diabetes Educators, dietitians, pharmacists and even mental health counselors can be part of your team. Explain challenges and barriers to your doctor or the appropriate team member to find the best solutions. Avoid “tattling” or belittling the person with diabetes if you attend medical visits together. Instead, calmly and clearly state the challenges and concerns, and then try to incorporate suggestions or directions into real-life practice. Follow up regularly with your team.
Don’t forget to take care of yourself
The stress of disease management not only affects the person with the condition, but those in caregiver roles as well. Caregiver support groups are common in most communities and can provide a safe place to decompress and share burdens with others. There is comfort in knowing others are in similar situations, and plugging in with a group or empathetic friends can go a long way for your mental and physical well-being.
Take a step back
Every once in a while, it can be helpful to take a step back and evaluate your own experience as a caregiver. What words and tone are you using? Do you have clear-cut goals? Are you approaching these goals as a team? Do you feel like you understand how diabetes works? How do you feel?
Helping someone self-manage their diabetes can be overwhelming. Be patient and remember that it’s a work in progress for both you and your loved one.
Good luck and enjoy the journey!
By Rita Bush, RD, CDE
Fit4D Certified Diabetes Educator
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
American Diabetes Association