Diabetes is a chronic condition that occurs when blood sugar levels become too high. High blood sugar happens when the body produces too little to no insulin or doesn’t respond to it well. Insulin is used by the body to convert glucose (sugar) into energy for the cells.
Left untreated, diabetes can cause serious health problems such as kidney disease, nerve damage, and eye problems.
Approximately 9.4% of the U.S. population lives with diabetes. Although there is no cure, there are ways to manage diabetes and stay healthy. A caregiver can help.
Caring for a loved one with diabetes can include administering or tracking medications, encouraging changes to diet and activity levels, and ensuring regular monitoring by a healthcare provider.
This article covers what you need to know about diabetes, your responsibilities as a caregiver of someone with diabetes, what you should try to avoid, how to talk to your loved one with diabetes, and how to take care of yourself as a caregiver.
What You Need to Know About Diabetes
Diabetes is a lifelong condition that requires ongoing management to control blood sugar levels. There are several types of diabetes. The most common types are type 1, type 2, and gestational. They are:
- Type 1 diabetes occurs when the immune system attacks the pancreas and the body stops producing insulin. People with type 1 require insulin daily to survive.
- Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body does not make or use insulin well. Some people may require insulin with type 2.
- Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy and often goes away after birth.
Signs and symptoms of diabetes include:
- Extreme thirst
- Hunger even after eating
- Blurred vision
- Frequent infections or slow-healing cuts/sores
- Weight loss even with increased eating
- Numbness, tingling, or pain in the hands or feet
Once someone is diagnosed with diabetes, a healthcare provider will develop a treatment plan.
Treatment for diabetes includes using devices to monitor blood glucose levels, medications such as insulin and Glucophage (metformin) to control blood sugar levels, and lifestyle modifications such as diet and exercise.
Responsibilities of Caring for Someone With Diabetes
Caregivers play an important role in the long-term care of others with diabetes. There is much to manage when living with the disease, and this can become challenging for your loved one.
As a caregiver for someone with diabetes, you may be responsible for helping with basic medical care. Monitoring and managing blood sugar levels are the most important aspects of living well with diabetes.
Often, glucose monitoring requires constant testing. This can be done by small pinpricks that produce drops of blood to be tested on a glucose meter or through a continuous glucose monitor that requires a small patch inserted under the skin.
Your loved one may need help with these tasks, especially if they have a fear of needles or difficulty with mobility. You may also need to help your loved one interpret the data to determine how much insulin is necessary and any dietary or activity changes that need to be made to achieve appropriate blood sugar levels.
Insulin often comes in injection form. Your loved one may need help administering this medication.
Loved ones who take oral medications, such as metformin, may need reminders to take their medication at the prescribed doses and intervals.
You may also want to attend healthcare provider appointments with your loved one. There, you will learn about the disease and the treatment plan and can be a second set of ears to help your loved one remember what the healthcare provider says.
Everyday tasks can be challenging for someone coping with diabetes. They may turn to you for support for practical care needs, like grocery shopping, preparing meals, doing the laundry, and performing other household tasks.
For loved ones who need to adjust their diet or activity levels, you can be a positive support in those areas. Take walks together. Sign up for a gym or enroll in exercise classes with them.
Meal planning is an important part of living well with diabetes. A careful balance of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats from healthy foods is necessary. Learn how to prepare meals that support their blood sugar levels and treatment plan.
Emotional Care or Other Responsibilities
Learning to live with a disease and the changes and limitations that come with it can feel draining or difficult for your loved one. They may express their wish to be “normal” and not want to deal with the disease.
As with other aspects of life, living with diabetes will have its ups and downs. Encourage your loved one to voice their frustrations and concerns. Providing a listening ear can often be a great source of strength for your loved one. You may also want to help your loved one find a support group for people with diabetes.
People newly diagnosed or experiencing complications with diabetes may need more than just for you to listen to them. In those instances, encourage them to seek professional mental health help.
What to Avoid as a Caregiver for Someone With Diabetes
While you may become an expert in your own right at caring for your loved one with diabetes, you should avoid making changes to your loved one’s treatment plan without consulting a healthcare provider.
If your loved one’s diabetes is well managed, you may want to relax your vigilance. But it is still important to look for signs and symptoms that may indicate a complication that needs medical attention.
A healthcare provider should evaluate new symptoms or symptoms that worsen. Signs or symptoms of known complications of diabetes such as high blood pressure, blurred vision, slow-healing cuts, need to be evaluated,
People with diabetes are more likely to develop depression. If your loved one shows signs of depression, such as a disinterest in activities they enjoy, seek the help of a mental health professional.
How to Talk to a Loved One About Diabetes
Many people live a healthy life with diabetes and learn to cope with and adjust to managing the disease. But it is common for people to not want to accept that they have to live with and treat the condition for life.
You may need to talk to your loved one about their health and sticking with their treatment plan. Approach your loved one with concern if they have stopped monitoring their blood sugar or are engaging in behaviors that can negatively impact their health.
Ask how you can help them get back on track. Don’t accuse your loved one of making themselves sick. Try to empathize with their situation. Ask what’s made them not want to do what they know they’re supposed to do to manage their condition.
Diabetes is a lifelong condition, and your loved one will likely go through phases of acceptance and denial. They may become angry or frustrated. As a caregiver, try to give them the space they need to voice their concerns. Explain your worries without sounding judgmental.
For instance, avoid saying, “You’re so lazy. I can’t believe you’re not doing what your healthcare provider advised.” Instead, ask, “What happened today that made you not want to test your blood sugar level?”
When to Intervene
There may be times when your loved one’s blood sugar drops too low (hypoglycemia) or becomes too high (hyperglycemia).
Hypoglycemia can be a life-threatening condition and needs to be treated right away. Mild-to moderate low blood sugar symptoms include:
- Dizziness, light-headedness, confusion
- Increased heart rate
- Inability to see or speak clearly
Severe low blood sugar can cause:
- Loss of consciousness
If your loved one experiences these severe signs, seek emergency medical help.
If your loved one experiences frequent high blood glucose levels, it’s important to talk to their healthcare provider as adjustments to medication, diet, and physical activity levels may be necessary.
Diabetic ketoacidosis is a potentially life-threatening complication that can occur with diabetes. Seek emergency medical help immediately if your loved one experiences any of the following signs or symptoms:
- Decreased consciousness
- Fruity smelling breath
- Difficulty breathing
- Nausea and vomiting
Tips for Yourself as a Caregiver
Self-care is important for caregivers, both for themselves and for their loved one. People with diabetes have better health when their caregivers are less stressed and well taken care of.
To avoid caregiver burnout, it’s important to take care of yourself. Consider these tips:
- Don’t neglect your own health: Eat healthy, exercise, and maintain regular appointments with your own healthcare providers.
- Ask for help: No one can do everything on their own. Ask for another family member or friend to step in or hire an at-home care professional.
- Continue living your own life: Taking care of a loved one can be rewarding, but it takes time and dedication. Even so, don’t give up on the activities you enjoy.
- Seek emotional support: Talk to a mental health professional. Join a support group for caregivers.
Diabetes is a lifelong condition that requires constant monitoring and a comprehensive treatment plan. Many people with diabetes require a caregiver’s help. Caregivers may need to lend a hand with medical, emotional, and practical aspects of care.
They should try to offer help in a nonjudgmental way and be aware of worsening symptoms in their loved one. It is also important for caregivers to take care of themselves as this can lead to better outcomes for the loved one with diabetes.
A Word From Verywell
Caring for someone with a chronic illness can be incredibly rewarding, but it can also be challenging. Make sure to continue to take care of yourself while taking care of your loved one. Prioritize healthy eating, exercise, and the activities that you enjoy.
Ask for help when you need it. Your loved one may already feel like they’re a burden, don’t make them feel more like one by allowing your quality of life to suffer. Continue to live your best life while helping your loved one live theirs.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do people with diabetes need in-home care?
Diabetes can often be managed on your own or with the help of a caregiver. However, some people, especially older adults, may need in-home care.
How do you become a certified caregiver?
You can take courses to become a certified caregiver. Although each state has its own requirements, completion of the course and hours of experience are often required.