Diabetes, like many other chronic illnesses, requires a lot of care, time, support, and lifelong maintenance. Prediabetes, type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes can significantly impact your physical and mental health. And it can also affect the people who live with you!
It can be hard to watch a loved one navigate a health condition, and the desire to help can be overwhelming. Of course, it doesn’t compare to navigating a diabetes management plan for yourself. Still, diabetes care for a loved one, like any caregiving, can be challenging.
One challenging aspect is helping family members navigate life before a diagnosis. But you can be a valuable resource and pillar of support for everything from recognizing the symptoms to making that initial doctor’s appointment. Though it can be challenging to start a conversation with a loved one about their health, it’s often crucial to do so. Luckily, there are many ways to help if you believe a family member or loved one might be at risk of diabetes. Read on to find out more.
Diabetes is a chronic condition that affects how your body uses blood sugar or glucose, a crucial component of your body’s energy. When your blood sugar spikes, your pancreas releases insulin, allowing glucose to enter your cells to be used as energy.
When you have diabetes, your body does not make enough insulin or cannot use it effectively; your cells cannot absorb glucose from your bloodstream. It remains in the bloodstream, leading to other health issues like kidney failure, vision loss, and heart disease.
To help a loved one navigate diabetes, it’s best to know a little more about the condition, including refreshing your knowledge about the different types. Here’s more on type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes is most often diagnosed in children, teens, and young adults. It’s likely due to an autoimmune reaction in the body that stops it from producing insulin. While it’s not currently preventable and has no cure, several management techniques help you with the condition. About 5 to 10 percent of people with diabetes have type 1.
About 90 to 95 percent of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is most often diagnosed in adults, but it is increasingly being diagnosed among children, teens, and young adults.
Type 2 diabetes generally develops over several years. The symptoms can be hard to detect, so your loved one needs to have their blood sugar tested if they think they are at risk. You may be able to prevent and reverse type 2 diabetes with lifestyle changes like regular exercise, healthy eating, and weight management.
Gestational diabetes typically develops among pregnant people who have never had diabetes. It’s caused by the body’s inability to make enough insulin during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes affects 2 to 10 percent of pregnancies per year in the United States.
It typically doesn’t have any symptoms and usually goes away after the baby's birth. Gestational diabetes increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life, both for the pregnant parent and the baby.
Prediabetes affects approximately 96 million American adults. Someone is considered prediabetic if their blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be considered type 2 diabetes.
It’s important to be aware of the risk factors of diabetes and prediabetes so your loved ones can make educated decisions for their health. Prediabetes can go undetected for years, sometimes until it becomes a more serious health problem, such as type 2 diabetes.
Race and ethnicity can also play a role: research shows that some African American, Hispanic or Latinx, American Indian, or Alaska Native people are at higher risk of contracting type 2 diabetes or prediabetes, as well as some Pacific Islander and Asian American people.
Signs and risk factors for type 2 diabetes or prediabetes to watch out for in a loved one:
While there's no cure for diabetes, you can manage it and, in certain situations, reverse it. So, it’s essential for your loved ones to get their blood sugar tested if they believe they are at risk of type 2 diabetes or prediabetes.
Wondering how you can help a loved one deal with diabetes or prediabetes? Here are a few tips to help you show you care without stifling or overwhelming them:
Whether it’s diabetes or another chronic condition, your loved one will need support and care. After all, you don’t want them to feel like they have to go through the challenges that come with chronic conditions on their own. Learning about and showing an interest in their condition is a significant way to show support.
Ask them if you can accompany them to a doctor’s appointment or do some research on your own. Learning about diabetes or prediabetes will not only show them that you care, but the information will also allow you to support them when they are experiencing the symptoms of diabetes, such as low or high blood sugar.
It will also help you make informed decisions if a diabetes-related emergency should arise.
Managing type 2 diabetes or prediabetes can require many lifestyle changes, and it can be much easier to form new habits with someone else by your side.
Offer to help your loved one make a meal plan, shop for healthy snacks for them, or take a cooking class together. Accompany them to the gym, go for walks together, or help them make an exercise plan that fits their schedule and needs.
Stress can be a significant factor in managing blood sugar levels for type 2 diabetes or prediabetes. Support your loved ones in managing their stress through meditation, deep breathing exercises, or physical activity, like going on relaxing walks or doing yoga.
Sleep can also be an essential factor in managing stress. Help them adopt a relaxing bedtime routine, such as limiting screen time after a certain time. Attending a diabetes support group together can be a great way to connect a community of people who understand the condition, which can also help ease stress.
Blood sugar changes can impact mood. Your loved one may get irritable, angry, anxious, or confused when their blood sugar levels change. Offer your loved one emotional support and grace in these times. Blood glucose levels also increase the risk of mood disorders, such as anxiety and depression.
If their mood changes are frequent or unmanageable, it may be helpful to suggest they speak to a counselor or attend a diabetes support group.
We all want to be as supportive as possible to our loved ones, but too much support or the wrong kind can drive them away. Don’t turn into the diabetes police! Here are some mistakes to avoid when trying to support your loved one:
Like many health conditions, diabetes management takes time and resources. Diabetes or prediabetes diagnoses can be highly stressful for you and your loved one. Luckily, there are many ways to prevent or manage these conditions. Your strength, support, and encouragement can make an incredible difference in both of your lives and has the potential to bring you and your loved one closer than ever.
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