“How can I help?” Tips for caregivers of newly diagnosed diabetes patients
A diabetes diagnosis brings lifestyle changes for both the patient and their caregiver. Caring for a child may be instinctual, but how do you provide the right amount, and best kind of, support to an adult who is adjusting to diabetes treatment compliance?
Learn – If you’ve never cared for, or known, someone with diabetes, the learning curve may be steep, and somewhat overwhelming. The good news is that there is a wealth of information available from health care professionals and organizations to help get you up to speed and answer your questions. Diabetes.org is one of the best resources for patients and their families. Sponsored by the American Diabetes Association, this website can point you to information, books, online communities and support groups.
Take a Deep Breath – If you or your loved one is feeling overwhelmed by all the lifestyle changes they will have to make, know that it will take time to learn new routines and make decisions based on doctor’s recommendations. Take a step back and talk about each change as it comes along. Armed with the knowledge you’ve gained from researching diabetes, you can help your loved one understand not only what changes have to be made, but why they are important, and how they will make them feel better. Acknowledge their feelings and listen to their questions, fears and concerns as you work through new routines such as glucose testing, a new diet and need for exercise.
Support Without Pushing – It can be a fine line between being helpful and pestering, as you work through the lifestyle changes that diabetes brings. Your loved one knows what they have to do. Ask what you can do to support and help them adjust. Ask if they would like reminders about when to test and take medications, and what type of reminder would be the most helpful – posting a calendar with a checklist or setting an alarm for example.
Make Changes Together – A newly diagnosed diabetes patient may feel excluded from family activities. Having to eat a different meal than everyone else, having activities disrupted to administer self-care, etc. can lead to feelings of isolation. It is easier for the patient and can strengthen your relationship if you can make changes with them. After all, things that help manage a diabetic lifestyle are healthy for everyone – exercise, healthy eating and self-care. Simple ways you can take an active role in your loved one’s health include taking an after-dinner walk nightly, or signing up for an exercise class together. Research new recipes, cook and eat together.
Be an Advocate – Accompany your loved one to doctor appointments and diabetes education classes. Taking in all sorts of new information about caring for diabetes can be overwhelming. You can provide an extra set of ears to take in information, and you can ask questions that the patient may not think to ask. If they are having difficulties in a particular area, ask for referrals to specialists like dieticians and mental health counselors.
Find Support for Yourself – You need to take care of yourself if you want to provide care for someone else. Caregivers can feel stress because of an increased sense of responsibility. Talking to others in the same situation can provide comfort and allow sharing of information. Look online or ask your health care provider for local support groups. Online bulletin boards and sharing groups can also provide a good support system.