Tips for Handling Difficulties With Diabetes
People living with diabetes face certain health struggles that may require immediate response or a level of understanding. As a caregiver, when facing a difficult situation with your loved one, try to practice the following:
- Learn how and when to check blood sugar levels. Ask your loved one’s doctor for a detailed plan of care to help manage diabetes, including when and how to check blood sugar levels. Testing blood sugar levels is the only way to see if the person’s diabetes is under control. Regular insulin injections might also be necessary. It is important to make sure that injections are taken at the correct dose at the right time. Familiarize yourself with your loved one’s specific condition and concerns. For instance, elderly people might be less able to recognize high or low blood sugar symptoms themselves, requiring caregiver vigilance.
- Learn to recognize signs of diabetic complications. Consistent or very high blood glucose levels can be immediately dangerous. Levels over 15 mmol/l, accompanied with high levels of ketones, can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis (KDA). This complication is dangerous and can result in coma or death, if not treated immediately. Symptoms include vomiting, dehydration, rapid heartbeat, confusion, disorientation and coma. Another dangerous condition, hyperosmolar hyperglycemic state (HHS) results from very high blood glucose levels. Symptoms of this include dry mouth, extreme thirst, fever, vision loss, elevated blood sugar levels, hallucinations and nausea. Frequent urination can cause dehydration, which can become severe. To avoid these conditions, it’s important to stay on top of blood sugar levels by checking regularly and being proactive when levels fall outside of the safe zone.
- Know when someone has low or high blood sugar levels. Some people with diabetes experience mood swings because of high and low blood sugar levels. Low blood sugar can reduce inhibitions and increase emotional responses, leaving people feeling irritable, anxious, silly or even angry. High blood sugar is not only uncomfortable, it can cause fatigue. These changes in blood sugar make people feel short-tempered, jittery or confused. Monitoring and controlling blood sugar helps avoid these blood sugar level changes and consequent mood swings.
- Have an open dialogue about sex. If it is a spouse who has diabetes, talk openly with one another about any bedroom or sexual issues. Diabetes affects different parts of the body in different ways and it’s not uncommon for it to affect sexual organs as well. Men with diabetes are more likely to have erectile dysfunction and women with diabetes are more likely to have vaginal and urinary tract infections. Nerve damage caused by diabetes can also make sex uncomfortable or potentially painful. For both sexes, diabetes can be a hit toward the individual’s self-esteem. He or she may be less interested in sex. Acknowledge the reality of these issues. Be emotionally supportive and encouraging. Talk with a doctor, support group or professional counselor, if necessary.
Find Out About Resources to Help Care for a Person With Diabetes
The following resources provide more information on how to live with diabetes and tools to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
About the American Diabetes Association
The American Diabetes Association has many online resources for people and families dealing with diabetes. Their Diabetes 24/7 tool helps individuals manage diabetes, track personal health information, monitor weight and activity, upload information from devices and create a personal profile.
Use MyHealthAdvisor to track what is eaten and provides free, diabetes-friendly recipes. Looking for more recipes? The American Diabetes Association’s Recipes for Healthy Living has plenty. Take advantage of the community message boards to connect with others living with type 1 or 2 diabetes.
About the American Association of Diabetes Educators
The American Association of Diabetes Educators has a tool for searching your location for educators near you. Ask a doctor or diabetes educator for more resources offered by the hospital or in the local community.
About the Joslin Diabetes Center
Take an online diabetes class on the Joslin Diabetes Center website and check out their other helpful resources such as tips for avoiding complications from diabetes.
About Diabetic Connect
Diabetic Connect is an online social network for those with diabetes to connect, access recipes and stay up-to-date with diabetes news.
About Other Online Resources
There are numerous online communities, forums, publications, blogs and websites dedicated to helping individuals with diabetes. A Sweet Life, dLife and diaTribe are online publications with numerous articles about products, nutrition and health.
Learn Caregiver Self-Care Strategies
You have to take care of yourself, too. Be realistic about what you can and can’t do. You can’t control the fact that your loved one has diabetes, but you can control how you give support by practicing self-care when it’s needed. When caregiving becomes overwhelming, remember to do the following:
- Ask for help. Recognize that you may also need help of your own sometimes. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask for help. Diabetes can be a life-long journey. That’s a tall order! Acknowledge that it is difficult and own your feelings.
- Allow yourself to feel. It’s natural to feel sad, angry or even resentful. Seek help if these feelings are becoming too much for you to handle. Watch yourself for signs of depression and reach out if you are experiencing symptoms. Acknowledging your feelings, understanding them and giving a name to them helps you move forward in controlling them.
- Try to remain positive. One thing you can control is your response to the situation and your attitude. Focus on the positive. This is an opportunity to show your love and support to someone you care for. As a caregiver, you can also have confidence in your abilities and role. You can do it. You are doing it, even when it’s difficult. If thinking about the future feels overwhelming, it’s good to stay focused on the present. Make it through this moment, this day. Don’t let worries of tomorrow rule or ruin today. Turning the negative into positive is powerful.
- Keep up with a healthy lifestyle. Take care of your own health. Listen to your body’s needs and don’t forget your own nutrition, exercise and medical checkups. You might benefit from adopting some diabetes-friendly, healthy lifestyle changes, like your loved one. Take a break and recharge your batteries.
- Stay connected with others. There are many support groups and online communities for family and friends of those with diabetes to connect and share. Talking with other caregivers is empowering, comforting and helpful. Don’t isolate yourself. Stress is not healthy for you or your loved one and, ultimately, caring yourself makes you a better caregiver, too.