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Caring for Someone With Diabetes

Being a caregiver for a person with diabetes can be challenging. Here are tips on how to help them and take care of yourself, too.

caregiver sitting with her patient

Diabetes can be tough to manage. The person with the illness often needs help as he or she learns to eat better, get exercise and take medicines as prescribed. Ups and downs in blood sugar — and emotions — can happen, too.

It can be trying for both the person with diabetes and the person giving care. If you’re a caregiver for a parent, spouse, child or other loved one with diabetes, you can be an important partner in managing the disease.

Where do you start?

Understanding diabetes can give you more confidence in your role as a caregiver. Start by arming yourself with information. Ask questions at doctor visits. Consider taking a class (your doctor can suggest one). Seek information from trusted sources, like the American Diabetes Association or this health and wellness website. Keeping a caregivers journal may be a good way to track appointments, discussions with the health care team, medication monitoring or changes in your loved ones’ health, to name of few things.

The first thing you may learn is that diabetes puts people at a higher risk for heart attack and stroke — the leading cause of early death among those with the disease. Studies show reducing these risks for people with diabetes can be done by managing their ABCs — the A1C level, blood pressure and taking statins for high cholesterol. Following a healthy lifestyle and not smoking can help reduce their risk, as well.  If you understand your loved one’s ABCs and make sure they are monitoring their numbers, you can give better care.

The more you learn, the more lessons you can apply to the whole family. Type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed through a healthier lifestyle. Cook balanced meals for everyone. Find exercises and activities you can all do together. This will help support and motivate the one you’re caring for.

Have a conversation

You can find out a lot by simply talking to the person with diabetes about what he or she needs. You might start with these questions:

  • What part of your care is hardest for you to manage? Perhaps he has trouble caring for his feet. Maybe she hates fixing her own meals. Work with them to overcome these struggles.
  • What do I do that helps you the most? What helps the least? Sometimes simple things, like taking a walk together or dispensing medications, are the most appreciated.
  • Do you often feel down or depressed? He or she should be talking to the doctor if this is the case.

Take care of yourself

Sometimes caregivers get overly focused on the person with diabetes and forget to take care of themselves. You won't be a good caregiver if you're physically or emotionally spent. Try these tips to be at your best:

  • Lead a healthy lifestyle. Get enough sleep, eat balanced meals and get enough exercise. And don’t neglect your own doctor visits.
  • Do things you enjoy each day. Caregiving is not your entire life. Spend time doing what makes you happy.
  • Manage stress. Know how to manage your stress with activities, such as journal writing. Or even yoga and meditation, which use breathing exercises as a focal point.
  • Reach out to others. Make time for other family members or friends. Be sure to talk about things besides caregiving. If someone offers help, accept it. Look for a diabetes caregiver support group in your area.
  • Learn to say “no.” Caregiving is hard work. Be careful about taking on additional responsibilities. Make lists for yourself and tackle only what you can reasonably handle in a day.

Smoking and stress

Two lifestyle situations pose particular risks for people with diabetes and those caring for them:

  • Smoking. If your loved one is a smoker, work with him or her to kick the habit. Both diabetes and smoking increase the chance of heart attack and stroke. Smoking can also raise blood sugar levels and make diabetes harder to control. And if you’re a smoker, realize that your secondhand smoke is putting your loved one at increased risk. Make every effort to keep tobacco out of the house.
  • Living with stress. Prolonged stress can elevate blood sugar and is especially troublesome for a person with diabetes. As a caregiver, you may get tired and anxious as you handle the needs of the person with diabetes, as well as your own needs. Both of you should be attentive to stress. Make sure that you’re finding ways to relax. Perhaps there are things you can do together to work through stressful situations. Identify your biggest sources of stress and work out the anxiety through healthy activities such as doctor-approved exercises, deep breathing and quiet meditation.

Together, you and your loved one can take important steps to create the healthiest environment possible — for both of you.

By Ginny Greene, Contributing Editor

American Diabetes Association. Standards of medical care in diabetes-2016. Accessed: March 28, 2016.
National Diabetes Education Program. Help a loved one with diabetes. Accessed: March 28, 2016.
National Diabetes Education Program. Small steps, big rewards. Prevent type 2 diabetes. Accessed: March 28, 2016.
American Diabetes Association. Living healthy with diabetes guide. Accessed: March 28, 2016.

Last Updated: March 28, 2016