Caring for a loved one with diabetes

It’s always interesting to ask diabetics what the single most important part of managing their condition is. Most will answer medication, some lifestyle and others that visiting health professionals, such as dieticians and podiatrists is. Indeed, these are absolutely crucial to the treatment of diabetes, but many studies have demonstrated that the effectiveness of these interventions are determined, to a large extent, by the support which diabetics receive from their family and/or other support figures in their lives.


You care about your loved ones and want the best for them, but may feel overwhelmed about how to assist them in living with diabetes. Herewith 8 simple tips you may want to consider:

1. Educate yourself

Educating yourself about diabetes can assist in understanding the elements of caring for the condition better.  It will allow you to be more supportive and very importantly, to identify and manage emergencies which your loved one may experience. The whole family should be involved, including children; there have been cases where children have saved the lives of family members because they were taught these principles. Make sure that you use reliable sources of information and have an opportunity to ask a knowledgeable professional any questions.

2. Ask them – and listen

Don’t assume that you know where the person needs support. Many caregivers immediately focus on the taking of medication or changing the lifestyle and although important, there may be other more subtle areas, such as feelings of fear, guilt, anger or even embarrassment about needing to test or inject at work. These are often only uncovered through sensitivity and truly listening to what your loved one expresses.

3. Manage your and their expectations

Don’t expect the person to change everything overnight or achieve perfect control of their blood sugar within a month. In addition, ensure that your loved one doesn’t do the same. Irrespective of who sets the bar, unrealistic expectations early on often lead to "achievement failures", loss of motivation and a sense of being overwhelmed. Start with a single, easily achievable change, and then build on these early successes.

4. Do not judge, blame or nag

You’re not living with diabetes, your loved one is. Judging them, blaming them or nagging them will almost always have the opposite effect of what you are trying to achieve. Some individuals like being “supervised”, but most will just begin hiding things, giving you even less insight and opportunity to support them. Find a balance between helping them “stay on the straight and narrow” and suggesting to them that you don’t understand their struggles.

5. Be willing to make changes yourself

An individual is much more likely to change if those around them change with them. This can include beginning to exercise together, change the diet in the household, or stopping smoking together. Inevitably, these can improve your health and the health of your whole family, a useful side effect indeed!  Again, do not expect the family’s habits to change overnight, make small changes over a period of time.

6. Join in their care

Many diabetics attend appointments alone, and their main support givers have little insight into their current state of health, care plan or advice from health professionals. This is particularly true of adults living with the condition. In addition, “tagging along” also helps give your doctor and other healthcare providers insight into your loved one’s life and any areas which could be leveraged to improve their condition. Depending on their personality, this can be construed as a form of control and “micro-management” by some diabetics but again, also depends on the basis on which the care-relationship has been built; a non-judgemental, supportive partner will usually be allowed to join in.

7. Avoid a sick relationship

Diabetes is a serious condition and requires many changes of the person and their support figures, but it should also not take over their lives and relationships. Don’t let your relationship become one where the affected person is the patient, and the supporter the doctor. Remember the original basis of your relationship and why you love them and continue nurturing that.

8. Don’t forget about yourself

This is especially prevalent in parents of a child with diabetes. Naturally, a parent will sacrifice anything to care for their child and although noble, actually does not benefit your child in the long run. Burning out, becoming depressed or suffering from poor physical health yourself significantly impacts your ability to care for them. Ensure that you continue with your interests and hobbies and that you can occasionally switch off.

A note to the "patient"

Hopefully these points have demonstrated that diabetes can be challenging to your family members, as well as yourself, and that they can be a tremendous source of support to you. But to do this, they need your help in the form of communication, commitment and a willingness to change.  Take these points to them if you feel they could benefit from reading them.

Intercare Salubrity has almost a decade of experience in delivering care for diabetics, which is holistic and focused on health education, empowerment and care coordination.


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