Supporting a Loved One With Diabetes

Approximately 29 million Americans live with diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and PreventionTrusted Source (CDC). Type 2 diabetes is the most common, making up about 90 to 95 percent of all cases. So chances are, you know at least one person living with this disease.

One of the best ways to predict how well someone will manage their diabetes: how much support they get from family and friends.

Daily diabetes care is a lot to handle, from taking meds, injecting insulin, and checking blood sugar to eating healthy food, being physically active, and keeping health care appointments. Your support can help make the difference between your friend or family member feeling overwhelmed or empowered.

What You Can Do

  • Learn about diabetes. Find out why and when blood sugar should be checked, how to recognize and handle highs and lows (more below), what lifestyle changes are needed, and where to go for information and help.
  • Know diabetes is individual. Each person who has diabetes is different, and their treatment plan needs to be customized to their specific needs. It may be very different from that of other people you know with diabetes.
  • Ask your friend or relative how you can help, and then listen to what they say. They may want reminders and assistance (or may not), and their needs can change over time.
  • Go to appointments if it’s OK with your relative or friend. You could learn more about how diabetes affects them and how you can be the most helpful.
  • Give them time in the daily schedule so they can manage their diabetes—check blood sugar, make healthy food, take a walk.
  • Avoid blame. Many people with type 2 diabetes are overweight, but being overweight is just one of several factors involved. And blood sugar levels can be hard to control even with a healthy diet and regular physical activity. Diabetes is complicated!
  • Step back. You may share the same toothpaste, but your family member may not want to share everything about managing diabetes with you. The same goes for a friend with diabetes.
  • Accept the ups and downs. Moods can change with blood sugar levels, from happy to sad to irritable. It might just be the diabetes talking, but ask your friend or relative to tell their health care team if they feel sad on most days—it could be depression.
  • Be encouraging. Tell them you know how hard they’re trying. Remind them of their successes. Point out how proud you are of their progress.
  • Walk the talk. Follow the same healthy food and fitness plan as your loved one; it’s good for your health, too. Lifestyle changes become habits more easily when you make them together.
  • Know the lows. Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) can be serious and needs to be treated immediately. Symptoms vary, so be sure to know your friend’s or relative’s specific signs, which could include:
    • Shakiness.
    • Nervousness or anxiety.
    • Sweating, chills, or clamminess.
    • Irritability or impatience.
    • Dizziness and difficulty concentrating.
    • Hunger or nausea.
    • Blurred vision.
    • Weakness or fatigue.
    • Anger, stubbornness, or sadness.

    If your family member or friend has hypoglycemia several times a week, suggest that he or she talk with his or her health care team to see if the treatment plan needs to be adjusted.

  • Offer to help them connect with other people who share their experience. Online resources such as the American Association of Diabetes Educators’ Diabetes Online Community icon or in-person diabetes support are good ways to get started.

Children and Older Adults

If you have a child with diabetes, you’ll probably be much more involved with their day-to-day care. Some older kids will be comfortable checking their own blood sugar, injecting insulin, and adjusting levels if they use an insulin pump. Younger kids and those who just found out they have diabetes will need help with everyday diabetes care. Your child’s health care team will give you detailed information about managing your child’s diabetes.

Diabetes is more common in older adults, and it can be harder for them to manage. Older people may not be as able to notice high or low blood sugar levels, so it’s especially important for you to know the signs and how it should be handled. They may have several diabetes complications such as vision problems, kidney disease, or nerve damage, so regular appointments with their health care team are essential.

Better Together

The most important thing is quality of life, yours and theirs. Sure, there will be highs and lows—blood sugar and otherwise—but together you can help make diabetes a part of life, instead of life feeling like it’s all about diabetes.