Diabetes can be difficult, due to its physical, emotional, financial, social and mental implications. People living with diabetes constantly have to take medication to steady their blood sugar levels, check their blood sugar regularly and be careful of how they live in general. As such, a diabetes diagnosis and condition impact a patient’s loved ones.
If you know someone with diabetes and you are unsure of how best to help, support and care for them, this article will show you how to do so.
Being supportive of someone living with diabetes and actively contributing to daily care can help them enjoy the healthiest life possible. To do this, you should offer physical, mental and emotional care.
Physical care entails monitoring medication, diet and exercise. Remind them to constantly check their blood sugar, and maintain a daily record of their weight, blood sugar readings, medicine schedule, meals, exercise and mood are needed. Ensure there is a medicine routine and medicines are taken at the right times and dosage. Use a pill organiser if needed and offer help if your loved one cannot open or administer their medication themselves. Offer to keep a record of their symptoms or other concerns, and help them talk about them with their doctor. You can also help them make and get to doctor appointments.
Make sure that their diets are high in protein, whole grains, healthy fats, fruits and vegetables. Oily, fatty, fried foods and foods (or drinks) high in refined sugars should be avoided. Drinking lots of water and eating healthy snacks help too. Exercise improves insulin sensitivity, reduces blood glucose, controls weight, reduces anxiety, improves mental health reduces the risk for cardiac diseases so it should be prioritised too. Other physical care activities are grooming, bathing, dressing, etc.
Also, help them join a wellness community, like LiveWell Club, where Nigerians living with diabetes can gain practical knowledge and share experiences that support their treatment, diet and lifestyle changes.
As diabetes increases the incidence of depression and anxiety; swings in blood sugar can make one jittery, confused, anxious or irritable; mental and emotional care should not be ignored. Offer support, encourage your loved one to join a group or talk about professional counselling if needed. Also, nudging them to engage in daily activities that might help ease stress (taking walks, deep breathing exercises, listening to music, watching a funny movie) are ways to reduce the mental toll of the diabetes journey.
Now, let me share with you five care tips you need when caring for people leaving with diabetes 2.
In your quest to ensure your loved one stays healthy and avoids diabetes complications, first, educate yourself. Care is curiosity. Learn everything you can about diabetes and your loved one’s specific situation. Research online; offer to accompany them to appointments or diabetes support group meetings. Learn how to prevent emergencies or complications, and how to identify symptoms of low (hypoglycemia) or high (hyperglycemia) blood sugar.
Second, be patient. Care is compassion. Give your loved one some time to process what can be a lot of information at once. Be patient with the extra time they may need to perform foot care as they get ready in the morning, read nutrition labels when grocery shopping, monitor blood glucose or administer insulin. Don’t disregard the fact that managing diabetes is hard. There’s a thin line between providing support and nagging. If you start lecturing or acting like the diabetes police, they may shut down and refuse your help, and you don’t want that.
Third, make changes, too. Care is commitment. Join them in making healthy lifestyle modifications. Set small goals such as making good food choices, quitting smoking and staying active.
Fourth, speak positively. Care is communication. Encourage them in ways they understand and appreciate. Ask, often, how you can help. Be specific about what you’re able to help with. Don’t offer what you’re not willing to provide. If your offer is turned down, let them know the door is open if and when they’re ready. Offer positive support, not negative stories. Although complications can happen, you should keep conversations positive. They don’t need to hear about people who died or had limbs amputated.
Fifth, be observant. Care is consciousness. Sometimes, people with type 2 diabetes experience a drop in blood sugar. This can cause cloudy thinking, fatigue and weakness. Find out if your loved one is at risk for low blood sugar and then learn what the symptoms are and how to treat if they are at risk. Be mindful of these symptoms and speak up immediately if you notice a change in behaviour. It’s also helpful to plan how to handle a diabetes-related emergency or what to do in the event of a blood sugar drop. Since low blood sugar can cause confusion, your loved one may be unable to articulate the steps to raise their blood sugar at the moment. In the case of emergencies, contact the medical team immediately.
Finally, a bonus tip: Take care of yourself. Care is cognisance. Recognise your limits and know when to step back. Remember that ultimately, the person with diabetes is responsible for managing it, not you. It helps to have a community of fellow caregivers to help ease your journey.
A diabetes community or support group is very beneficial for the physical and mental health of people living with diabetes, as well as their caregivers.
Ifechukwu Orjiani, a certified diabetes nurse educator, writes from Lagos; 09055790893
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