Caring For Someone in Your Family with Diabetes: Tips & Techniques
There are more than 37 million Americans living with diabetes. Many of these are older adults who might have difficulty dealing with the daily grind of managing diabetes independently. Others are children with Type 1 diabetes who simply aren’t old or mature enough to tackle the many responsibilities that come with managing diabetes on their own.
For most families, when help is required, it falls on the shoulders of a parent or a child. Caregiving can be challenging, especially when family members are involved. In fact, it’s not just a lot of added responsibility for the caregiver. It’s also often difficult for the person getting care to accept help – particularly for older patients being cared for by their children.
In this post, we’ll discuss caregiving as it relates to diabetes and offer some tips that we hope will help families manage diabetes more effectively together.
You’re Family and You’re in This Together
One of the most important things to remember when caregiving for a family member is that you are in this together. What this means is your relationship is not the traditional clinical one that exists between a patient and caregiver. It’s far more personal – father and daughter, mother and son, grandparent, and grandchild.
This can have both good and bad consequences. We love our family members, so there is a deep desire to effectively control blood sugar, keep them healthy, and avoid diabetes related complications, such as cardiovascular disease, kidney disease and nerve damage.
At the same time, family is family and, when caring for each other, tensions can arise. For example, caregivers can receive pushback from older family members who don’t feel they require assistance. Caregivers can also find themselves exhausted and feeling underappreciated for all their efforts. On the flip side, patients can end up feeling as though they have become unwanted burdens on their loved ones.
Experiencing feelings like these is perfectly normal. But there are a few tips to prevent them from becoming bigger problems.
Caring and Nagging Are Two Different Things
Being the caregiver of a difficult patient can get under your skin. But nagging about an unhealthy dietary choice or poor lifestyle decision isn’t going to get you as far as talking the problem out calmly and rationally. Nobody likes to be preached to or lectured at, and the tension is only compounded when it happens between family members. Support is great. Reminding is part of caregiving. Nagging your mother isn’t going to solve any problem.
Share the Responsibility
It may not be possible for a child or elderly parent to care for themselves entirely, but they should still be invested in their diabetes management program. For instance, if a child is able to test his or her own blood sugar using a continuous glucose monitoring device (CGM), let that child do it with your supervision and support. The same holds true for an older parent or grandparent. Even if they’re unable to physically administer blood sugar tests and insulin injections independently, they might be able to follow treatment schedules, plan healthy meals, track blood sugar results and still feel actively involved in their own care and health.
Grooming & Bathing
One area of diabetes care that often gets overlooked among the elderly is grooming. People with diabetes are more likely to have issues with their mouths, such as gum disease and fungus. They’re also more prone to infections, particularly around the finger and toenails. As a caregiver, it’s important to make sure your patient brushes his or her teeth after each meal and flosses at least once a day. It’s also important to check your feet regularly. Look for sores or blisters that might need attention, and be sure to keep toenails well-maintained, clipping straight across and then smoothing with an emery board in order to avoid ingrown toenails and prevent infection.
Mild soap and warm water while bathing can help prevent skin from drying and cracking, which can lead to infection. After a bath or shower, dry thoroughly especially between the toes. It’s also a good idea to moisturize the feet with a doctor-approved diabetic foot cream, but do not apply any moisturizer between the toes as this can lead to problems.
One of the best ways to reduce stress and help control blood sugar is through exercise. Why not make it a family tradition? After all, it’s a lot easier to stick to a physical activity routine when you’ve got someone by your side supporting you. Now, if you’re the parent of a child with Type 1 diabetes, he or she will probably get plenty of exercise playing sports or just running around with friends. However, if you have a parent or partner whose diabetes you help manage, become exercise buddies. Try to fit in about 30 minutes of activity on most days. It doesn’t have to be rigorous. Make plans to go for a long walk after dinner. Or break your routine up into three 10-minute walks. The point is, when you do it together, you’ll do it more regularly.
Attend Doctor Appointments as A Team
This one probably seems a little obvious. Still, it’s worth mentioning. As a caregiver it’s important that you understand the diabetes management program of your family members inside and out. This means being there for every doctor’s appointment in case things change and treatment adjustments need to be made. Plus, you’ll be there to ask any questions you might have and provide information to the physician regarding any diabetes management challenges you’ve been noticing - such as frequent spikes or drops in blood sugar.
Family Meals for Healthy Eating (And Bonding)
It’s not always easy to do given our busy schedules, but sitting down to family meals at the table is a great way to share healthy and diabetes-friendly eating habits. Plan them together using healthy ingredients including lean proteins like fish and chicken, plenty of fresh veggies, whole grains, and seasonal fruit. For a little fun, you might want to check out diabetes friendly recipes that can be easily found online. Diet plays an important role in controlling blood sugar. Eating right as a family can make caring for the person with diabetes you love a whole lot easier.
The Clinical Stuff
As a caregiver, it’s up to you to make sure the daily diabetes routine is followed correctly and safely. This includes testing blood sugar, administering insulin injections and oral medications, dressing any wounds, and handling any unexpected highs or lows in blood sugar.
It’s important to make sure you always have plenty of supplies on hand - syringes, pen needles, test strips, CGM sensors and transmitters, infusion sets, glucose tabs, and other diabetic accessories.
It’s also important, particularly when caring for an elderly family member, to take steps to prevent infection. Wear a medical mask when necessary (especially if you’re not feeling well). Medical gloves are a good idea when treating wounds. Always sanitize injection sites using alcohol swabs. Also, make sure your patient receives a flu shot and COVID-19 vaccines to prevent serious complications.
Managing diabetes is a daily responsibility and acting as the caregiver for a family member can certainly feel overwhelming at times. Remember that you’re in this together, that diabetes management can be hard on your patient, too, and accept that any difficult moments you experience will pass. When all is said and done, you are family and there’s nothing more important than caring for each other.
Visit us online to shop for continuous glucose monitoring devices (CGM), glucose meters, test strips, lancets, insulin syringes, pen needles, infusion sets and patch systems, as well as all your other diabetic accessories.
We carry top manufacturers, including FreeStyle, Dexcom, Accu-Chek, True Metrix, One Touch, Contour Next, Clever Choice and many others. Enjoy free delivery to your home or office now at diabeticwarehouse.org.