About 1 in 10 people in the U.S. has diabetes and there is a good chance you have at least one friend or family member affected. Whether they are newly diagnosed or have had diabetes for years, they need your love, friendship and support.
Successfully managing diabetes requires constant decision-making because so many factors impact a person’s blood sugar levels. Things such as when, what and how much to eat, remembering to take medications and monitor blood sugars, and then what to do with the blood sugar results. These activities also need to balance with work and family.
Diabetes management is not always simple and must be done daily. There is no vacation from diabetes. Studies show that people can better manage their diabetes when they have support from loved ones. So, what is the best way to support someone with diabetes? There is sometimes a fine line between caring and nagging, and it’s not always easy to know what to do or say. Below are some tips to help guide you.
1. Be a good listener.
One of the most important things you can do to help someone with diabetes is to listen to them, but that can be hard, especially when you love someone and are concerned about them. What are some things that good listeners do?
- Try to understand first by focusing on what the person is saying instead of thinking about what you want to say in response. This often means letting them do most of the talking!
- Listen without making judgmental statements. People who feel they are not being judged are more likely to be open and share more information.
- Don’t offer advice unless the person requests it. This can be hard, but giving people unsought advice rarely works and can actually damage your relationship.
Potentially helpful questions you can ask when talking about diabetes include:
- What is the hardest part of managing your diabetes?
- What can I do to help?
- Are there things I can do to make it easier for you to manage your diabetes?
- Would you like me to help set up reminders to take your medications?
- Can I take you to your doctor visits?
2. Learn about diabetes.
Myths and misinformation about diabetes are common. It is often thought that “people with diabetes should not eat sugar,” which simply is not true. All foods, in moderation, can fit into a healthy eating plan. And have you heard it said that “people who use insulin have ‘worse’ diabetes”? Again, not true. People with type 1 diabetes must use insulin since their pancreas does not make insulin and people with type 2 diabetes need insulin when their pancreas is not making enough insulin. There is no better or worse.
Learn as much as you can about diabetes so that you have accurate information. If your loved one is attending a diabetes education class, ask if you can go along. Here are the seven key areas of diabetes management:
- Healthy coping
- Healthy eating
- Being active
- Taking medication
- Reducing risks
Looking for more information to help you learn about diabetes? This diabetes self-care resource is a good place to start.
3. Learn about low blood sugar.
People with diabetes can experience low blood sugar (blood sugar less than 70 mg/dl) when they use insulin or oral sulfonylurea medications. Learn about the signs and symptoms of low blood sugar, how to treat it when it happens, and how to prevent it from happening.
4. Be a role model.
A diabetes diagnosis is a chance for everyone to be healthier. If you and your loved one go out to eat or to someone’s home, check ahead to help ensure there are healthy food and drink choices available. Your job is not to be the food police but to support healthy choices, which can include a piece of cake every now and then.
5. Help ease stress.
Too much stress can raise blood sugar levels and make it harder to manage diabetes. Encourage your loved one to talk about feelings and frustrations. Try things together like walking, gardening, watching a funny movie or attending a diabetes support group.
6. Know when to step back.
Remember that the person who has diabetes is responsible for managing it, not you. Living with diabetes is hard work, and encouragement and support are better than unwanted advice or, worse, scolding. When people have support of family and friends, they are often better able to make the best possible choices about their diabetes.
Next time you talk to a family member or friend about diabetes, try a few of the items listed above and see if it makes a difference!
About the author
Barbara Kocurek is the director of strategic initiatives for Baylor Scott & White Health and has been a certified diabetes care and education specialist for almost 30 years.