Diabetes: A Basic Guide For Carers and Family Members

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Diabetes is one of the leading causes of death in the world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 1.6 million deaths are directly attributed to the disease each year. In the same report, it was also reported that about 422 million people worldwide are suffering from diabetes.

A chronic, metabolic disease characterized by elevated levels of blood glucose (blood sugar), diabetes could lead to severe damage to the heart, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys, and even nerves over time.

There are two types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is caused by the lack of insulin, while Type 2 develops due to the ineffective use of insulin.

Type 2 diabetes is most common in adults, and it usually occurs when the body becomes resistant to insulin or doesn’t make enough of it. While this type of diabetes can be avoided, bad habits and lifestyle choices can make this disease irreversible, which could take a lifetime to deal with. Type 2 diabetes is also controllable, but without proper blood sugar control, complications are very likely to occur.

If someone you know has Type 2 diabetes and you want to take care of them, here are some basic ways to beat diabetes with your loved ones:

1.      Educate yourself about the disease. The first step you must take is to learn about the disease, including its nature, signs and symptoms, causes, risk factors, medication, and treatment. With a complete understanding of the disease that you are dealing with, you and your loved one can manage the condition in various aspects.

2. Encourage healthy eating. As mentioned earlier, Type 2 diabetes is caused by unhealthy choices. As the caregiver, encourage the patient to start eating more healthily. Change in eating habits can be challenging, but it is necessary to normalize blood sugar and avoid future complications.

Help them develop better meal choices by learning the best diet strategies and joining them in this adventure. Eating unhealthy food around the patients is not recommended as it will only make it harder for them to stick to their new routine.

3.    Limit alcohol intake. Alcohol has a lot of sugar and calories that can add up to the patient’s daily calorie count. The point of caring for loved ones suffering from Type 2 diabetes is to help them control their blood sugar.

If the patient is 65 years old and above, limit alcohol intake to one drink per day, maybe with a light meal. Research also showed that a glass of red wine provides benefits to people with Type 2 diabetes such as reducing the risk of heart disease.

4.      Encourage drinking lots of fluids. Encourage the patient to drink more water as well as caffeine-free and sugar-free drinks. Sodas and juices (unless fresh fruit juices) are not suitable for them as these can only add calories to their daily intake and shoot up their blood sugar count.

Drinking plenty of fluids keeps their body and skin hydrated. It is important for Type 2 diabetes patients to keep their skin from drying to prevent cracked skin, cuts, or sores as it could lead to more serious problems in the future.

5.  Test blood sugar daily and check blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Daily monitoring of blood sugar levels is important, so take note of it. Keep a notebook to jot down the blood glucose readings and any symptoms on a particular day. Include their blood pressure and cholesterol levels in your notes. In the journal, make space for meals eaten, exercises done, and the time. Remember to bring this notebook during appointments with the endocrinologist.

6.      Encourage exercise. For Type 2 diabetics, regular exercise or any physical activity is just as important as maintaining a healthy diet. Being physically active helps the patient to lose weight and, in turn, lower blood sugar.

As the care provider or support, offer to become a workout buddy. Allot at least 30 minutes of activity three to four days a week. Walking or hiking can be a simple but great way to stay active in the first few weeks. You can steadily do more vigorous activities such as strength training in the following weeks. Remember to do something that both of you will enjoy and stick with.

It is also important that any physical activity should be done an hour or so after eating when the blood sugar is likely higher. Take plenty of water, medicines, snacks, and other essential items when exercising away from home. Check the blood glucose level before, during, and after each exercise.

7.      Offer to accompany them during doctor’s visits. Some people have a fear of going to the doctor’s clinic or the hospital. When your friend or relative has a doctor’s appointment with their endocrinologist, offer to drive them there and accompany them. You can also take down notes in case some information may be lost in translation or forgotten.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions to the doctor, as this is another way of educating yourself about the disease and how to properly take care of the patient. Lastly, you can also offer to go to the pharmacy for the medications or insulin shots.

8.      Be positive. Caring for your loved ones with diabetes is a huge responsibility, and it is important not to make them feel that they are a burden to you. Instead, have an open and honest conversation with them as this will help empower them in managing their health and preventing complications.

Stress can also affect blood sugar, so both of you need to remain positive. Aside from doing physical activities, another way to maintain a positive atmosphere at home is to do deep breathing exercises, gardening, meditation, listening to music, or working on a hobby.

Diabetes is a serious disease that deserves proper attention, but it is not a death sentence. Diabetes can still be controlled, although it takes a lot of work for the patient, their loved ones, and those who care for them. But doing it together can benefit both the patient and the caregiver in incredible ways.

About the Author

Jolina D. Santos, MD

Dr. Jolina began her journey as a health care professional when she took her medical degree in one of the most prestigious med schools in the Philippines. 

With a solid foundation, the Thomasian took her residency training in internal medicine at Capitol Medical Center. Deciding her calling was to help treat people suffering from diabetes, she took her clinical fellowship at the Institute for Studies on Diabetes Foundation, Inc (ISDFI). 

To further her studies, she proceeded to take her Master of Science in Diabetology at UERM-ISDFI and is currently completing her thesis. Apart from serving as a consultant for the For Your Sweetheart website, Dr. Jolina is a visiting faculty at the ISDFI and is currently practicing in Quezon City.

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