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Supporting a Loved One with Diabetes

As a registered nurse and certified diabetes educator, I recognize the risks and possible complications associated with diabetes. I also understand the realities of day-to-day decisions, and the fear and frustrations that come along with the condition, as my husband has type 1 diabetes.

In order to find a balance as to how to provide support and encourage behaviors that may allow your loved one to manage their diabetes and health, it is important to recognize that those with diabetes have diabetes they are not “diabetic.” In understanding that diabetes is not what someone is but rather something he/she may have, it helps to differentiate the person from the disease.

How can you help?

>Communicate

Have conversations about how you may be of help and discuss when you can intervene; this may lessen the risk of poorly received advice or perceived nagging.

Understand that certain decisions may affect the entire household. Questions such as “What is for dinner?” or “Should we go for a walk this evening?” are examples of situations where you can work together to make decisions that may allow for greater management of blood sugars. Be the example; engage in the behaviors that will help to optimize blood sugar control and mitigate the risk of possible complications.

>Educate yourself

Research diabetes using credible, evidence-based sources. The American Diabetes Association website is a great resource as it provides links to resources in your local community, recipes and events. Attend classes, talks or lectures. Ask questions!

Education is important as it can give the power back to the individual. With diabetes, many possible complications can occur over time due to poorly managed blood sugars. Being in fear of these possible complications and/or adverse blood sugar values may lead to disagreements and increased pressure on those with diabetes to do specific things throughout the day. Educate yourself on current recommendations and what to do in an emergency. Work together to identify what steps to take in the future to best manage blood glucose when you experience a setback.

Attend medical appointments when asked. If you are not able to attend, keep a diary of possible questions to ask at the appointment in your absence.

>Understand your role

In order to provide support to my husband, I realized I needed to balance when I was being helpful and when to back off. Do not take offense if your advice is not used. This is not a reflection of you. Understand that behaviors are hard to change. Support may be in the form of explaining recommendations.

For example, if a loved one typically does not check their blood glucose in the morning, review with them why this is helpful. It could be because their provider will check their hemoglobin A1c at the next visit so they believe they don’t need to check these daily values themselves. This may be a great opportunity to review that while this may be checked, the glucose levels checked day to day are providing invaluable information and may help to identify steps that could be taken now rather than in three months of possibly having low/high glucose values.

>Recognize the work involved

Diabetes is tough! It can require a high level of vigilance and daily tasks that may yield different results from one day to the next without any perceived cause. It is important to understand the work and possible stress involved as part of day-to-day management, and that there will be good days and bad days. Overall, the goal is to have more good days than bad, and to do so in such a way that you are still able to live a life with diabetes not for diabetes.

Putting yourself in your loved one’s shoes may help you empathize and better understand what they may be going through. When speaking with support persons of those with diabetes, I often make a comparison between checking blood sugar values and weighing oneself. If my doctor asked me to weigh myself daily, but when I did so, the number did not reflect the hard work I had put in, I might feel like I had not been doing what had been recommended, which may make me less apt to do continue the daily weight check.

>Provide encouragement

Be the cheerleader and celebrate the victories; recognize a fasting blood sugar that is in range and meeting your lab value goals. Take each opportunity as a learning experience and, thus, a victory!

Lisa Levinson is a registered nurse and certified diabetes educator at Overlake Medical Center.

Overlake offers one-on-one education as well as two-part classes to help people learn practical skills to manage diabetes, including medication, meal planning, glucose monitoring and more. Classes are taught by certified diabetes educators. Please see your healthcare provider for referral. Learn more about diabetes education at Overlake, or call 425.688.5111.