Supporting Relative with Diabetes

Diabetes in the family.

When someone in your family or close relatives is diagnosed with diabetes, you may initially feel helpless. But, it is your strength and support that can help this person get through the toughest times. Diabetes is a chronic, lifelong illness which cannot be cured and requires multiple lifestyle and dietary modifications. But you can offer support, comfort, and actions that can help to take care of it every day. I believe that healthy support and encouragement from family and friends can set a person with diabetes up for success. Such people adhere to their medication and diet to have better diabetes control and are also mentally healthier.

Ways to Support a Relative with Diabetes:

1.  First, try to learn as much as possible about diabetes.

See, this is very obvious— the more you know, the more you can help. Take interest in your loved one’s diabetes – so that you are there to lend a helping hand or shoulder to lean on at just the right moment. Another way of knowing about diabetes disease and care is by attending a diabetes counselling or support group with the patient. In this way, both the patient and their relatives can receive support and learn strategies to cope with their feelings and the disease. Counselling sessions with diabetologists and dieticians can particularly help family members to discover ways in which their loved one can implement changes in his or her life by developing a diabetes management plan and sticking to it.

2. Understand the symptoms of sudden hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia

I feel that it is very important for any relative of a diabetic person to understand the symptoms of a sudden drop or increase in blood sugar levels. Symptoms of high blood sugar and low blood sugar may be mild and barely noticeable. But if sugar levels are very low, they are more severe and include fatigue, weakness, sweating, dizziness, shaking, headache, blurry vision, rapid heartbeat, confusion, slurring words and loss of consciousness. If your relative is showing any of these signs, immediately give him or her some sugary candy. Then, call for emergency medical help. On the contrary, if the diabetic person is having frequent urination, extreme thirst, and blurry vision or is feeling very tired— then these might be indicators of increased blood sugar. An instant blood glucose check can help to identify this condition and requires further medical assistance.

3.  Offer to attend doctor appointments

It is very supportive when you make yourself available to help someone with diabetes. Simple gestures like offering to drive them to their next doctor’s appointment, or picking up their medication from the pharmacy, or even attending doctor’s appointment with them etc., can make them feel that you want to be part of their journey. And they may even welcome the support.  However, be cautious and remember that there is a thin line between providing support and nagging. So stay alert and act only after asking.

4.  Encourage healthy eating

See, the path to improved health not only needs emotional support but also togetherness in making healthy choices. The question that arises now is—how can you show that you care? Well, the answer is simple – JOIN THEM. Plan meals and eat the same foods that your diabetic relative eats. Avoid buying foods he or she isn’t supposed to eat. Healthy-eating rules are the same for everyone, including people who have diabetes and those who don’t. Eat foods that are low in fat, cholesterol, salt and added sugar. Choose a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and fish. You’ll help your relative manage their disease, plus improve your own health.

5.  Exercise together

Regular exercise is just as important as a healthy diet for managing diabetes. Being active and losing weight can help to lower blood glucose. Moreover, it is often easier to exercise when you’re working with a partner. Try to be the “workout buddy” with your diabetic relative and pick up a simple way of exercising daily for at least 30 minutes. Walking, jogging, bicycling, aerobic activity, swimming, and dancing are all good activities that will help both of you get enough exercise. Additionally, you’ll have increased energy, less stress, and a lower risk of developing illnesses. But don’t forget– it is important that your diabetic relative first consults his or her doctor about the kind of exercise that he or she can safely do.

6. Be positive

It might sound difficult as diabetes complications are very scary and life-threatening. However, it should be kept in mind that the diabetic person is already aware of them. So, I suggest that friends, family and relatives of a diabetic person should always indulge in a lot of positive conversations and positive support. This may seem insignificant from your viewpoint but can make a huge difference in someone’s life. Appreciate their efforts for diabetes management. Such positive environment lifts the mood and helps diabetic people to gain encouragement to stick to the diet and lifestyle plans set for them. I always tell this to my patients—if you want to control your blood sugar level– Stay away from stress.

What not to do?

Now, it is important to note here that while offering support to your diabetic relative, you should be aware that you DO NOT say or do anything that might make him or her to shut down and refuse your help. They might get frustrated and make unhealthy choices. Some don’ts to avoid such situations include:

1.  Don’t Nag

If you’re constantly telling a diabetic relative what to do or repeatedly scolding them, they’ll see it as a challenge to their control. It may become highly annoying for them to constantly hear reminders about his medications, blood sugar level checks, doctor visits, diet, exercising etc. Try to understand that there is a very fine line between reminding and irritating. Know the difference between being helpful and being a nag—help only when you are asked.

2.  Don’t become a doctor

This is very important. Unless you are a diabetes expert– avoid giving medical advice. You may mean only good for your diabetic relative– but many popular beliefs about diabetes are outdated– and you could be offering bad advice. So stick to the doctor’s recommendations and regimes.

3.  Don’t give horrifying examples of other people you know.

Though you may know of many people with diabetes—like your aunt who had diabetes and went blind, or your neighbor whose limb got amputated, or an uncle who had kidney failure due to unmanaged sugars—AVOID DISCUSSING IT– It doesn’t help someone trying to manage diabetes to hear other people’s horror stories. So –try to avoid giving such dreadful examples.

4. Don’t stare.

Your diabetic relative might become uneasy if you are constantly staring at him or her while they are taking insulin injections or doing prick tests for blood sugars. If you are uncomfortable with blood and needles—turn away.

5. Don’t be insensitive

Never say things like, “You are lucky– it could have been worse. At least it’s not fatal.” Statements like these are unkind and hurtful as they imply that diabetes isn’t a serious condition. But as we all know very well that all forms of diabetes must be taken seriously to avoid and control the development of long-term complications. Your diabetic relative may feel that you do not understand what he or she is going through.

6. Don’t give orders

You should understand that you’re not diabetes police, and neither your relative with diabetes is a criminal when he or she doesn’t obey your words. You can make suggestions or recommendations, but make sure they’re nothing more than that. It might trigger a negative back reaction in the mind of the diabetic relative which can hamper his or her progress in managing diabetes.

Concluding Remarks:

In the end, I would like to say that – I firmly believe that if you follow these do’s and don’ts you are surely going to provide the constructive support that your diabetic relative needs. Also, be sure to keep the communication lines open. Ask them directly about the ways in which you can offer help, and take their feedback seriously. This will create a healthy and supportive environment that will lead to better disease management.

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