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Making diabetes self-care a family affair

It may be time to revive a family tradition or create a new one — or two — around your diabetes self-care. According to a 2020 study in Parents magazine, family traditions have made a major comeback due to COVID-19, as they promote the kind of healthy and gratifying relationships that we all look forward to and need.

Ask most anyone with diabetes and they’ll tell you how incredibly appreciative they are to have any encouragement and assistance of family in managing customary diabetes tasks day to day. So, why not get both: family togetherness and self-care support?

Good Morning Diabetes

This individual-turned-family idea called “Good Morning Diabetes” is inspired by the American Journal of Occupational Therapy. It found that 91% of older adults they interviewed used a specific, personal, daily routine activity like brushing teeth to remember when to take their medications, while 51% needed some type of social support like their spouses to adhere properly to a set prescription schedule.

One cleverly choreographed Sunday breakfast family tradition combines both: whichever family member is up first turns on the juicer, sees the intentionally placed pillbox for Mom on its top, pours a small glass for everyone at kitchen table, turns the TV on to “Good Morning America,” and gives Mom her Metformin with a sip of fresh mango and apple at the local weather break.

Related: 11 Reasons You ‘Forget’ to Take Your Medication

Type 2’s days or Type 1’s days

Turning an old family recipe more diabetes-friendly is a very popular skill that we share with families who come through formal diabetes self-care training. Even simple swapping can yield big health pluses without sacrificing flavor by:

  • Using fresh fruits and vegetables high in vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber
  • Changing to herbs and spices for seasoning instead of salt, butter, lard or other unhealthy fats
  • Baking, not frying, to cut down on overall fat content.

You could even make this a regular family tradition by proclaiming Tuesdays “Type Two’s Days” or Wednesdays “Type One’s Days” when your family commits to cook up wholesome versions of its different traditional family dishes. One step further, pass this tradition on by putting these special recipes in an engraved tin for each of your kids. When you have diabetes, one of the first things you learn is you and your family don’t have to give up the foods you grew up with or love. What’s more, you’ll likely get extra benefits as well. Recent research in the journal Appetite links nostalgic activities that evoke positive food memories from your childhood to better managing your stress levels.

Diabetes coupon book

This is one of my own personal favorites. Instead of that next birthday or special occasion purchase, ask your family to cut one or more wallet-sized valentine hearts out of colorful construction paper, handwrite something on each that they promise to do for you sometime in the weeks ahead to help you with your diabetes self-care, and place inside a card. Something practical and concrete like these:

“Explore."
  • Drive you to your next annual dilated eye exam or gas up the car for you to go.(Recognizing vision as an important high-risk area for diabetes complications to keep on top of)
  • Homemade picnic lunch delivered 1st Saturdays all spring (helping you enjoy eating outdoors and stay healthy)

What you’ll have is a homemade, redeemable, “diabetes coupon book” family tradition that makes self-care to-do’s more collaborative. According to Psychology Today research, families who consistently purchase experiences like these, as opposed to material items, have a significantly greater tendency to feel uplifting emotions like awe and inspiration, be better motivated to self-care, and become more socially generous.

Related: 7 ways a plant-based diet can help you manage diabetes

Diabetes-on-vacation

Near the start of each year, as tradition, call a family diabetes meeting. Ask everyone to take a moment, sit back with a notepad and brainstorm fun goals and associated activities they and you really care about doing together as a family over the next year — but at least one that also takes into account your diabetes self-care. Maybe you want to plan your annual family diabetes-on-vacation trip this year around a diabetes community conference or event.

Day of Diabetes

Self-care advocate Adam Brown shares this imaginative tradition from his own diabetes journey: A Day of Diabetes. In it, your family experiences — appreciates or re-appreciates — your diabetes by doing your self-care tasks all day long alongside: logging carbs, taking finger-sticks for mealtime blood sugar levels and resisting unhealthy foods (from his book “Bright Spots & Landmines: The Diabetes Guide I Wish Someone Had Handed Me”).

Diabetes “exergames”

Another unique close-knit family ritual encourages after-meal movement, also good for blood glucose control:Diabetes Dance Night, where every Friday after dinnertime, you play vinyl Elvis records on a vintage hand-crank turntable and have the whole family dance in the living room until they fall into the couch from laughter. Of course, any other action-packed family activity that camouflages or combines healthy movement with fun, like a video exergame or competitive exercise challenge, will work just great. Researchers in a 2019 JAMA Internal Medicine study discovered that a friendly family competition orchestrated around wearing fitness trackers and counting daily steps led to a healthy increase of nearly 1000 steps a day.

Make up your own family-fun diabetes traditions.

There’s no cookie cutter for making meaningful family traditions. Remember, yours only have to resonate with your diabetes and your family.

A 2017 review of 22 diabetes studies in Behavior Sciences found that all types of family support for family members with diabetes had an overall marked positive impact on healthy diet, physical activity, psychological well-being and glycemic control. Use these tips as you start thinking about ways to create new family traditions:

  • Get creative. Traditions really can be both enjoyable and grounded in a useful aspect of your own uniquely personal diabetes self-care.
  • Start today. Traditions won’t start or preserve themselves without resolve.
  • Involve family. Traditions are all about the love we share for each other and the value of being together.
  • Take photos. Traditions are for albums to relive over and over.
  • Stay safe. Traditions should always mold to your current health.

As time goes on, you’re sure to welcome something deeply satisfying about looking forward to — and looking back on — shared family memories around living well with diabetes.

Share Scrubbing In with your family today and start a tradition of family wellness.

About the author

Lynn McLellan, RD, CDCES
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Lynn McLellan is a registered dietician, certified diabetes care and education specialist and the current coordinator for the Diabetes Self-Management Education program at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Temple. The program launched in 1981 and is now among the longest running, ADA-certified diabetes education classes in the U.S. The program also hosts a free monthly diabetes support group open to the community.

Making diabetes self-care a family affair