Diabetes and the Family.
Diabetes, as we all know very well, is a chronic disease worldwide. It not only affects the individual but also has a pronounced emotional impact upon the family and particularly on those with a close relationship with the diabetic individuals. Some people may feel that they can manage diabetes on their own. But it is not them alone – their family members also live with diabetes and are part of their loved one’s diabetes management. In such cases, diabetes not only inflicts physical but also a psychological burden on both the diabetic individual as well as his or her near and dear ones.
Emotional Concerns of Families with Diabetic Patients:
The family members of diabetic patients face many fears.
Firstly, acceptance of the fact that their family member has diabetes.
Family members and the people with newly diagnosed diabetes may sometimes go through stages of grief before coming to terms with the disease. Denial may be the first response, but slowly they may accept the fact and move ahead with it. Studies have shown denial in diabetics tends to result in poorer health and management than in those who accept their diabetes. Talking to the family members and getting them educated about ways to keep diabetes in check can significantly help them in accepting the condition and moving forward with it.
Secondly, the fear of emergency situations, like hypoglycemia.
Usually, the family members take diabetes into consideration every moment and its consequences are always present in their minds. This leads to considerable anxiety and stress. Also, handling a person during hypoglycemia may at times become distressing for those staying with them. They may fear about what to do in an emergency situation like when someone becomes confused, loses consciousness, or has seizure activity. These things can happen while driving or doing other activities — the thought of this can be very scary. In such cases, teaching the family members on emergency responses and involving them in doctor visits can help them to deal with such situations that may save the person’s life and ease their fears.
Next is the fear that their loved one will develop complications of diabetes.
Anxiety about the long-term health of diabetic family members is very common. One study showed that nearly 63% of family members of diabetic individuals had anxiety about how the complications of diabetes would affect and change their lives. It is well known that diabetes does increase the risk of developing certain complications, such as eye problems, kidney disease, heart diseases, stroke and limb amputation. But good management has been shown to consistently lessen these risks.
Then, there is a state of confusion, with the family members wanting to help, but not knowing what to do.
It is also very common for the family members to feel confused as to what their new role is in this reality. Often they may find themselves in awkward situations, for instance – always asking a diabetic to take glucose at the first sign of fatigue, or even reminding them of medications every time. It can be difficult to find a good balance between helping and nagging. In such cases, it may even put the diabetic individual under a lot of stress. A good dialogue or talk between family members and the diabetic person on how they want to be helped can reduce this stressful situation considerably.
Next is the stress of changing their lifestyle.
It is often seen that family members may initially face difficulty in adapting to lifestyle changes across diet, medication and physical activity with diabetic individuals. They may feel uncomfortable eating junk food while the diabetic person is eating a healthier snack. Sometimes, they may feel pressure to start cooking healthier meals for the entire family so that the diabetic person may not feel as though he is the only one that has to eat better. In families with kids, this may cause a lot of arguments, which can be stressful as well. Making healthy dietary decisions can be beneficial for all in the long run.
Lastly, diabetics have a higher chance of showing signs of depression.
People who are finding it hard to keep their blood sugar levels and diet in control often show symptoms of persistent sadness, feeling helpless, increased fatigue and concentration problems. In such cases, people around them may find it difficult to cope up with this adversity or to cheer the patient. Yoga, exercise and counseling can be effective in helping people deal with adversity and reduce levels of stress.
In my clinical experience, I believe that diabetes of one family member significantly influences other members of the family. They often perceive diabetes as a more serious illness than those actually suffering from it. Here the noteworthy point is that the families who are involved with the diabetes of their family member create a more open home environment that is better suited for managing diabetes. I personally believe that it is very important for a patient of any age to have the family’s support in managing their diabetes and such support will positively contribute to their health outcomes. I have often seen that patients who are able to involve their family members are certainly more open to discussing diabetes and to get their support and assistance for diabetes management.
Role of the family- Recommendations and suggestions:
I strongly feel that – and I always tell this to all my patients – that diabetes is a family disease. When people suffer from diabetes, they have to live in an atmosphere where others are aware of what it means to live with diabetes. This helps the patient to feel less alone; it feels like they have collaborators. This translates into a diabetes-friendly environment for the patient which helps them in coping with diabetes on a daily basis.
As a physician, I feel that the aim of diabetes management not only includes keeping glucose levels in check but also in preventing diabetes related complications by conscious self-management. It is now a well-known fact that family plays a significant part in self- management of diabetes. Improving family communication, conflict resolution, and problem-solving skills can be considered critical elements of effective family management of type 1 diabetes.
Some suggestions on how the diabetic individual and his or her family and can deal with diabetes include
- Educating oneself and the family about diabetes as much as possible – consult a physician or a specialist to know about the disease.
- Have a healthy and open discussion within the family about the needs, whether it is related to diabetes or others.
- Let the family know how involved do you want them to be in your diabetes management and what they can do for you.
- Make lifestyle changes together. You can achieve a lot by working together as a team, not against each other.
- Be patient. Have an honest discussion about what is working and what is not. Be positive and encourage each other. Take time to address the things that are barriers in achieving your diabetes goals, don’t just ignore them.
- Family members may provide practical help in the day-to-day management of diabetes as well as support and encouragement in lifelong adherence to a demanding regimen.
- Parental support has been shown to enhance diabetes control and self-management in children and adolescents.
In the end, I would like to say that diabetes is a difficult and frustrating disease to face, and it is okay to have hurdles. Just remember that having a support system is the key to for its successful management. So it is necessary to acknowledge the impact that diabetes has on the family and closed ones. Because it is only for strong familial support that a person can make constructive progress to overcome diabetes to have a healthy and fruitful life.