Here's how to support your loved ones living with diabetes.
1. Reconogize their unique diabetes journey
You may feel like comparing your family member’s diabetes management with somebody else you know that has diabetes. However, this fails to acknowledge the individuality of the condition. Recognize there are many facets of living with diabetes. Allow your family member to lead the discussion and learn from them how they manage diabetes based on their preferences, medications, availability of resources, and other factors.
2. Be inclusive
A diagnosis of diabetes should not be a reason to exclude or single out loved ones in any way. Be a source of encouragement for someone with diabetes as their diagnosis is one part of their life, not all of it. Always be welcoming, and accommodating and avoid actions that may make them feel like they are different, high-maintenance, or do not belong.
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It can be easy to want to help in any way you can think of. But well-meaning actions can sometimes be the opposite of what your loved one needs. Ask them directly for advice on how you can help and encourage them to let you know when to step back if your help is not needed. Listen to what they genuinely are asking for and follow-through, whether running an errand for them or simply calling to check in.
4. Avoid judgment
Nobody likes to feel like they are being watched by the “diabetes police”. Humans aren’t perfect and your family member likely will not do everything “right” all the time. Avoid commenting about what they are eating, their exercise habits, or making other remarks about what they “should or should not” do. Commenting on their actions isn’t necessary, but if you do, try acknowledging positive things you see your loved one doing
5. Support healthy habits
Avoid buying foods that your family member isn’t supposed to be eating like soda, candy, or desserts. It can be tempting to want to share these types of food with your loved one, but it can lead to setbacks in their diabetes management. Instead, find fun things you can do together that do not involve these types of foods. Go for a walk or hike, visit a museum, play a board game, have a spa day, start your own personal book club or learn a new hobby together.
6. Lead by example
Be a partner with your family member and support them with any lifestyle changes they need to make to reach their health goals. For instance, family meals can be a source of stress for loved ones with diabetes. Another family member might insist on bringing a different dish for them. However, cooking different foods just for them can make them feel singled out. Be proactive and encourage other family members to plan healthy meals everyone can enjoy.
7. Educate yourself
Learn about diabetes both from your family member’s perspective and from trusted resources. It’s important to know the signs and symptoms of high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) and low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and be familiar with any medications your family member may be prescribed. Work with your loved one to make a plan on how to handle any emergency situation that may occur. It may also be beneficial to ask permission to see if they would like you to attend any doctor’s visits with them.
Helping family members prepare for doctor’s appointments by setting up an appointment checklist with them is another way you can provide support.