Tackling the Emotions of Diabetes: A Support Guide for Friends and Family

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April is Defeat Diabetes month and we thought we’d write about a subject that isn’t often written about, how friends and family can provide emotional support to loved ones who have diabetes.

A diabetes diagnosis can be overwhelming emotionally for loved ones as well as the person with the disease. Friends and family don’t always know the best way to help. Licensed psychologist Lisa Hoffmeyer, Ph.D., a diabetic herself, gives friends and family the following advice:

Offer to Help
Ask what kind of help the diabetic needs and wants, and take a collective approach, “What can we do together to make sure you are healthy in the future?” Newly diagnosed diabetics wrestle with the notion that their life will be terribly different moving forward. They often feel their body has failed them. They might be angry. They need support as they make the necessary lifestyle adjustments to manage the disease.

In addition, the patient should also ask their family, “What are you scared of? How can I help you understand my disease? How can you feel safe and know that I am going to be OK?”

Be Informed
If someone with diabetes is open to it, attend doctor visits and educational classes together, but respect their independence. If your loved one has hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), you should know what signs indicate a possible emergency and what to do if your loved one loses consciousness. Family and friends should learn everything the patient does, with one caveat, they should not be the experts—the patient should.

Plan for the Future
Seniors with diabetes may face many challenges and they are twice as likely to get dementia versus non-diabetics. It is important that caregivers be prepared should the diabetic not be capable of managing their care. Have conversations about managing diabetes before it becomes an issue.

Don’t Police
It is important for friends and family to realize the patient needs to own their disease and, unless impaired, they must be in charge of managing it. A lot of family members become the ‘diabetes police,’ and that’s not helpful. Instead of asking, “Are you sure you should be eating that?” a better way to help a loved one with diabetes is to ask, “What can I do to support you and help you succeed?”

Understand Insulin
Many patients with type 2 diabetes will become insulin-dependent or choose to go on insulin pumps. It isn’t a sign that they are doing anything wrong. Insulin may be the best treatment for some people and not necessarily a sign of worsening health. My recommendation is that the diabetic does what it takes to be healthy in the moment.

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Do you have other support tips? Share them with us and our readers.