Caring For The Diabetic In Your Life

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There’s no reason to sugarcoat it. Caregiving can be overwhelming, particularly when someone you love receives a life-altering diagnosis like diabetes. Not only do you have to ensure your loved one eats right, gets to doctors’ appointments and remembers to take their medications, but often you have to do it all while running a household, raising kids and holding down a job. In between times, you have to find a way to stay on top of your own health.

So how can you provide the highest quality care for the diabetic in your life without burning out in the process? Shawn Bennis, MSN, RN, who leads the Family Caregiver Initiative at Henry Ford Health System, offers these six suggestions:

  1. Take a deep breath. A diabetes diagnosis comes with a steep learning curve for patients and caregivers alike. But you don’t have to learn everything all at once. Instead of trying to overhaul your lives, give yourselves time to process the new diagnosis. Then, focus on making small changes, a little bit at a time. Swap white rice for brown, have eggs for breakfast instead of toast and start taking the stairs instead of riding in elevators.
  2. Get educated. The most important thing you can do for your loved one is arm yourself with information. Caregivers need to understand diabetes as well as the person who has the disease. In addition to encouraging exercise and healthy eating, you should know which medications your loved one is taking, what the side effects are and how the medications should be taken (how often; with food or without). Most important, learn to recognize the warning signs that your loved one’s blood sugar levels are out of balance.
  3. Don’t become a micromanager. It can be difficult to strike a balance between checking on your loved one’s well-being and nagging. Instead of stepping into the role of diabetes police, ask your loved one to tell you what you can do to help him or her cope. You might even practice role-playing these requests with a member of your loved one’s diabetes care team. As in any relationship, good communication and knowing which battles to fight are the benchmarks of success.
  4. Make lifestyle changes a family affair. A diabetes diagnosis typically requires a greater commitment to eating right and getting plenty of exercise — good advice for anyone, no matter their health status. So why not make changes together? Search for diabetes-friendly recipes and prepare meals together as a family. Take up dance classes or hit the yoga mat for a 10-minute daily practice. Take a close look at your environment, too. If your pantry is packed with sugar-laden snacks, clear them out and stock the cabinets with healthier options. Store medications in a secure location and if your loved one requires insulin injections, make sure there’s a system for safe disposal of needles.
  5. Get help. If you feel overwhelmed by your mounting responsibilities, enlist the help of friends and family. Ask the patient’s doctor for help, too. Maybe there’s a simpler medication regimen, or maybe your loved one can check his/her blood sugar twice daily instead of four times. No matter what you’re struggling with, a doctor or diabetes educator can probably help make managing your loved one’s diabetes more seamless.
  6. Prioritize self-care. Many caregivers work themselves sick while caring for their loved one, neglecting health concerns, avoiding routine screening exams and failing to eat right or exercise simply because they don’t have the time. The best caregivers know they must nurture themselves first. Carve out time to eat right and exercise, schedule and keep your own screening appointments and take short breaks throughout the day to relax and rejuvenate.

“It’s important for patients and caregivers alike to understand that diabetes can be managed. In fact, people with diabetes can lead long, healthy lives when they manage the condition effectively,” says Bennis. Learn how to help by talking with a diabetes educator, joining diabetes-focused support groups and taking advantage of online resources, such as the American Diabetes Association.


To find a doctor at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).

For caregiver resources, visit henryford.com/familycaregivers, or email your questions to caregiverresources@hfhs.org. You may call and speak to the caregiver coordinator at (313) 874-4838.

Categories: FeelWell