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How to Care for a Loved One With Diabetes

Quick Answer

Caring for a loved one with diabetes can be challenging. Open communication, education about diabetes, and staying organized can help you support and connect with your loved one during their time of need.

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Detailed Answer

Are you faced with caring for a loved one with diabetes? Are you struggling to care for them as well as you believe they deserve? You're not alone.

Approximately 38.4 million people have diabetes in the U.S. That's a little more than 1 in 10 people. Many people with diabetes need or receive some form of long-term care. Informal or family caregivers often find themselves responsible for providing this care.  

Despite being a common condition, diabetes isn't always easy to cope with. Many people with diabetes struggle with mental health challenges and diabetes-related health conditions. They may also struggle with burnout from constant blood sugar level monitoring.

Luckily, there are many ways to mitigate these challenges, making it easier for informal caregivers to help their loved ones. These strategies include staying educated, keeping medical documents organized, and checking in regularly with your loved one.  

Below, we'll discuss what diabetes is, how you can help a loved one with diabetes, and how to take care of yourself as a caregiver potentially facing burnout. 

What Is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic disease associated with the inability to regulate blood sugar levels. There are two main types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks the pancreas and stops producing insulin. Those living with type 1 diabetes need insulin to survive. This disease often happens in childhood or early adulthood, although in some cases, it may occur later in life. 

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body doesn't respond well to insulin, doesn't produce enough insulin to remain stable, or both. This type of diabetes often occurs later in life. Overweight individuals above age 45 with a family history of diabetes are more likely to get type 2 diabetes.   

About 90% of people with diabetes in the U.S. have type 2 diabetes. This is far more common than type 1 diabetes.  

Diabetes was listed as the cause of 399,401 deaths in 2021. Common side effects of diabetes are cardiovascular diseases, nerve damage, kidney damage, vision or hearing loss, and high blood pressure.

What Is Prediabetes?

It's estimated around 2 in 5 adults in the U.S. have prediabetes. This is often, but not always, a precursor for type 2 diabetes.

Prediabetes is a condition where your blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. It serves as a warning sign that you're at an increased risk of developing full-blown diabetes if you don't take steps to manage your blood sugar.

An A1C, also known as Hemoglobin A1c or HbA1c, is a blood test that measures your average blood sugar levels over the past two to three months. 

It's a crucial tool for diagnosing and monitoring both prediabetes and diabetes. Here's how A1C levels are interpreted:

  • Normal: Below 5.7%

  • Prediabetes: 5.7% to 6.4%

  • Diabetes: 6.5% or higher

Prediabetes is reversible with the right blood sugar treatment and management plan. Those who make lifestyle changes and take prediabetes seriously can reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes. 

Older Individuals Are at Higher Risk of Diabetes Complications and Long-Term Care

Managing blood sugar levels is crucial at any stage of life. However, as we age, the potential for complications grows. These complications can impact quality of life and increase the risk of needing long-term care, potentially burdening families.

Some complications with poorly managed diabetes include:

  • Diabetic neuropathy is nerve damage that can cause numbness and pain. The American Diabetes Association reports that approximately 50% of people with diabetes will develop some form of neuropathy. Neuropathy can lead to falls, foot ulcers, and amputations, potentially requiring ongoing care.

  • Clouded vision, or diabetic retinopathy, is caused by damage to the blood vessels in the eye. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, 1 in 4 Americans ages 40 and older with diabetes have diabetic retinopathy. Retinopathy can lead to vision loss and increasing dependence on others for daily activities.

  • Kidney damage is also a significant risk. The National Kidney Foundation reports that 30% of type 1 diabetics and 10-40% of type 2 diabetics will eventually suffer from kidney failure. 

One of the best ways to reduce stress around getting high-quality care and prepare for potential diabetes complications is to get Long-Term Care Insurance. 

Long-Term Care Insurance can help cover all types of long-term care, including ongoing in-home care. Individuals with pre-existing conditions such as diabetes may have more difficulty getting this coverage, but for many, it's still possible. 

If your diabetes is under control, with an A1C under 8.0, with no complications, and no other major health issues, you might be able to get an LTC Insurance policy.

However, caring for and managing diabetes is often much more nuanced than simply relying on outside care providers and insurance coverage. The impact of diabetes often extends beyond just physical health. 

Research shows that adults with diabetes are two to three times more likely to have depression than people without diabetes. This highlights the need for holistic care addressing both physical and mental well-being. There are many ways to prepare for and approach diabetes care, which we'll discuss below. 

How to Care for a Loved One With Diabetes

Caring for a loved one with diabetes involves a careful balance of assistance and emotional support. Whether it's helping your loved one keep track of their appointments and responsibilities or simply checking in on them every now and then, every bit of support helps. 

Diabetes is a long-term condition. There is no known cure, which can make managing the condition feel overwhelming. 

It's not like some conditions where you can just take a pill and forget about it. Diabetes involves careful dietary planning and blood sugar monitoring.  

Blood sugar monitoring is especially crucial. It provides valuable information about how the body responds to food, physical activity, and stress. By monitoring blood sugar levels regularly, individuals can adjust their treatment plan to best suit their needs. 

Many people with diabetes also implement lifestyle changes, such as creating a healthier diet and incorporating exercise into their daily routines. In addition to these lifestyle changes, regular check-ups are also an essential part of managing diabetes. 

These check-ups may include tests to assess kidney, eye, nerve, and cardiovascular health. By staying proactive about healthcare and attending regular screenings, individuals with diabetes can help prevent and manage any complications associated with the disease.  

Learn About Diabetes

One of the best things you can do for yourself and your loved one with diabetes is to learn as much as you can about diabetes. This will prepare you for any situations you may encounter and help you connect with and understand your loved one more. 

Here are some things you may want to learn about: 

  • What causes diabetes, and what worsens symptoms? 

  • What are the common symptoms and side effects of diabetes and diabetes treatment plans?

  • What kind of treatments or strategies are used to manage diabetes? What plan is your loved one using? Is there another plan that may work better for them? 

  • What does a diabetic emergency look like? What should you do in case of an emergency? 

Outside of being more aware and educated about the disease, learning about diabetes helps you become a better caregiver and advocate for your loved one during doctor's appointments or in conversations with others who may not be as educated or accepting of the disease. 

Even though diabetes is a relatively common condition, there's a lot of misinformation about the disease. Learning about these misconceptions can help you better manage care for your loved one and help them come to terms with their condition. Some common misconceptions include: 

  • Misconception: Being overweight will always lead to diabetes. Many people assume that being overweight always causes type 2 diabetes. While this is a big risk factor for the disease, other factors like genetic predispositions, age, and lifestyle choices can also impact whether or not someone develops diabetes. Many people at normal weights develop diabetes due to other risk factors. 

  • Misconception: Diabetic people can't eat sweets, carbs, or starchy foods. Diabetic people can eat treats and carbs as long as they're well-balanced within their meals or diet. Managing diabetes has much more to do with monitoring blood sugar levels rather than avoiding certain foods. Eating everything in moderation can go a long way in maintaining blood sugar levels. 

  • Misconception: Diabetes isn't a serious condition. This one couldn't be more false. Diabetes is a chronic, incurable, serious condition. It's linked to hundreds of thousands of deaths each year and can have serious negative health implications if poorly managed. Diabetes is a serious condition that requires a care plan. 

Establish Communication and Support

An important step to helping a loved one with diabetes is getting on the same page about what that help looks like. Make sure you communicate with your loved one that you're eager to help them. 

Many people with chronic illnesses feel like their diagnosis is a burden, and they do not wish to burden others. Letting them know you're there for them and willing and eager to help will help take some weight off their shoulders and open the door for effective and honest communication. 

You may want to ask your loved one what they're struggling with the most and how it would be most beneficial to help them. If they're not sure what kind of help they might need, you can offer a few suggestions:

  • Accompanying them to doctor visits.

  • Reminding them to check their blood sugar or take medications. 

  • Checking in every now and then to see how they're doing. 

  • Offering emotional support during times of need. 

  • Helping them with dietary needs or meal planning. 

  • Implementing lifestyle changes together, like more exercise or healthier diets. 

  • Helping them with activities of daily living that they may be struggling with. 

  • Running errands for them regularly. 

  • Coordinating care or appointments. 

Some people prefer more help than others. Above all else, defining and respecting boundaries set by yourself or your loved one is essential. 

Caregiving looks different for everyone. Some people might find it best to do everything as a team, while other families or individuals may find it easiest to help with small, specific tasks at predetermined times. There's no wrong or right way to approach it as long as it works for you and your loved one. 

Organize Important Medical Documents and Information

It may help to organize all your documents and important information. Documents and organizing can be a pain, but once it's done, all you have to do is maintain the organization system. 

Having easy access to all your documents and information can prove vital during stressful times. You may want to keep track of:

  • Doctors or specialists' contact information. 

  • Past appointments and diagnoses. 

  • Prescriptions and medications, including the name, dosage, reason, and date it was prescribed.  

  • The names and phone numbers of preferred emergency contacts. 

  • Any important miscellaneous medical documents or information. 

Remember to Take Care of Yourself as a Caregiver

Caring for a loved one can be draining at times. It's just as important that you're able to recover from burnout and reduce stress as it is for your loved one. You won't be able to show up as your best self unless you have time to be there for yourself and rest from your responsibilities.  

There are several ways to take care of yourself as a caregiver; here are a few considerations:

  • Set boundaries around caregiving. Creating boundaries like financial or time limits around caregiving can give you the peace of mind you need to relax and decompress from caregiving duties. 

  • Join a support group or speak with a therapist. Family caregivers need support, whether it's to vent about their struggles or to get advice on navigating difficult situations; having someone to talk to can help relieve stress. 

  • Schedule time to relax. Everyone decompresses differently; maybe you want to read a book for 30 minutes each day. Others may find it beneficial to go on a walk or pursue a creative hobby. Regardless of how you choose to relax, it's important to carve time out in the day to take a break. 

Navigating Diabetes Care with Your Loved One

Every person with diabetes deals with different symptoms and emotions. It's vital to hold space for your loved one's feelings and let them know you're there to support them.

Learning about the warning signs of an emergency or how to help your loved one manage diabetes can go a long way. Some people with diabetes need reminders to check their blood sugar levels or take medications; others need someone to help them manage their care documents and appointments. 

Regardless, there is no single approach to caregiving for diabetes. Any way you choose to work together can help you and your loved one manage the illness.  

If you or your loved one feel that their diabetes or other conditions are getting increasingly difficult to manage, you should reach out to your primary care provider. 

It may also be a good time to look at your options for long-term care, such as in-home care or assisted living. You can use the resources below to learn about long-term care and how to find it in your area:

  • Long-Term Care Directory – This care directory offers thousands of care providers across the country. You can compare and contrast high-quality long-term care options near you or your loved one. 

  • Who Needs Long-Term Care – This article explains how to tell if you or your loved one needs long-term care and what type of care you may need. 


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