Tips for Diabetes CaregiversDiabetes Caregiver

As a caregiver for an aging loved one, you already have numerous responsibilities and roles that are imperative to his or her health. But adding in a diagnosis of diabetes to the mix can make things even more challenging.

Diabetes is a group of metabolic diseases in which the person has high blood glucose (blood sugar), either because insulin production is inadequate, or because the body’s cells do not respond properly to insulin, or both. About 10% of diabetes sufferers have Type 1 diabetes, a disease often diagnosed early in life with no known cure. It must be managed through constant monitoring, regular exercise, medications, and diet modification. About 90% of diabetes sufferers have Type 2 diabetes, often brought on as we age due to weight gain, decreased physical activity, and poor diet nutrition. It too can be treated and sometimes eliminated with a change in habit, but can get progressively worse if not well-treated.

So what are the pieces of information you should know, and the warning signs to watch for, when caring for someone with diabetes? Your loved one’s doctor should be able to give you a comprehensive list or resources, but the checklist below is a good place to start.

A caregiver for someone diagnosed with diabetes should be very familiar with:

  • The patient’s blood glucose target range. You can get this from his or her doctor.

  • Symptoms of and treatments for high and low blood glucose levels. Common signs of high blood sugar levels – or hyperglycemia – include frequent urination, increased thirst, eating more food but not gaining as much weight as usual, fatigue, dry or itchy skin, and more frequent infections. Symptoms of low blood sugar levels – or hypoglycemia – include shaking, sweating, rapid heartbeat, headache, hunger, weakness, fatigue, impaired vision, anxiety, irritability, and dizziness, and in extreme cases, confusion and unconsciousness.

  • When and how to check blood glucose levels using a meter. Most involve a small prick to the patient’s finger.

  • Your loved one’s medication dosing and schedule, and potential side effects. Be sure to check with your pharmacist on any possible interactions with other medications.  Learn more about additional questions to ask your pharmacist for more ideas on what you should know about medications.

  • How to inject insulin or exenatide if these medications are prescribed.

  • Proper food nutrition, including how to plan meals and snacks, how to include the appropriate carbohydrates, and how to measure portions correctly. Don’t forget to consider how beverages can affect glucose levels.

  • What other habits can amplify the negative affects of diabetes, such as smoking, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.

  • The recommended amount of exercise or activity for your loved one, and ways to accomplish it daily.

  • Organizational techniques to ensure scheduling and doctor appointments, as well as transportation, especially if your loved one has special needs.

  • Quick contact list and actions to take in case of a diabetes-related emergency such as diabetic ketoacidosis or dehydration from high blood sugar levels, or loss of consciousness from severe low blood sugar levels. Your doctor can advise on which conditions require an immediate call to 9-1-1.

Your loved one may still be an active, enthusiastic learner and able to take on many of the responsibilities of monitoring glucose levels him or herself; however, the caregiver should break down these activities into small, manageable tasks and always be available to assist or remind as needed. Having healthy snacks readily available around the home and scheduling regular walks outdoors can encourage beneficial self-care. It’s important to be aware of your loved one’s need for independence and involvement, while balancing the imperative nature of maintaining a healthy glucose level.

With the proper training and motivation to improve and maintain your loved one’s health, you can reduce the impact that a diagnosis of diabetes can have on his or her life.

Did you know April is Defeat Diabetes Month? We invite you to share your experience caregiving for someone with diabetes in the comments.

Megan Hammons lives in the Central Texas countryside just outside of Austin, pursuing her love for copywriting after a career in high-tech marketing. She is part of a large, diverse family and enjoys spending time with the multiple generations living in her community.

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