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November 2016 National Diabetes Month
Posted: 11/14/2016 9:12 AM by
8 Tips for Caregivers
A diabetes diagnosis can be overwhelming. As caregivers, we want to support our loved ones and help them enjoy the healthiest lives possible. But what is the best way to do that? We talked to experts—both health care providers and people who have been there—to learn what is helpful and what to avoid.
Start Your Education Now
Any diagnosis presents a learning curve. Your first and best step in becoming an ally for your loved one is to arm yourself with education.
Some people believe that diabetes is “not a big deal” or, alternately, that it’s a death sentence, so it’s important to know the facts. “As physicians, we try to debunk [misconceptions], but information coming from a trusted family member or friend is really powerful,” “[Diabetes is] something you can live a long, healthy life with, by managing it daily.”
You can ask your loved one’s health care provider about where to learn more, including books, online communities, support groups, and sites such as the American Diabetes Association’s diabetes.org.
Take Some Time
You can learn things and make changes bit by bit, to avoid overhauling your lives based on a loved one’s diabetes.
So don’t rush your loved one (or yourself) from mourning to acceptance. Instead of saying, “You’re not going to feel this way tomorrow,” it may be more helpful to say, “This is really scary. What are you most worried about?
Encourage Self-Care, but Don’t Be a Pest
There’s a fine line between checking in on someone’s well-being and what Gerald Strauss, PhD, a psychologist with the Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system, calls “miscarried helping”—also known as nagging.
“Though people really do want to help their loved ones with diabetes, this backfires and just sends people running in the opposite direction,” he says. Don’t pester: Explain what you would appreciate your loved one doing.
Make Changes Together
Your loved one’s diagnosis probably means making some lifestyle changes. Going through that alone might feel isolating, so why not make the changes together as a team or household? Start exercising together or look for diabetes-friendly recipes together—then cook and eat them together.
Set Small Goals
Taking a step-by-step approach is the easiest way to make permanent lifestyle changes, Doing small things, such as taking a walk after dinner, can improve blood glucose and overall diabetes management, and allow you to look at the results and reevaluate as needed. That’s very motivating for the patient, and they can continue to move forward,”
Offer help only if you really mean it. Saying “let me do anything I can to help you” is so broad, most people won’t take you up on it. So be specific about what you’re able to help with, and offer only if you really can help, says Gruman. “There’s nothing harder than to ask for help and then have it refused,” she says. So can you give your loved one a ride to the doctor? Then offer that—it’ll be appreciated.
Work With the Diabetes Care Team
Attend doctor’s appointments and diabetes education classes together if your loved one agrees. Listen carefully to what both health care providers and the patient are saying, chiming in with what you know, and asking questions to help your loved one get the best care possible. Often doctors don’t know that patients are having trouble with their medications or [aren’t] able to follow a diet plan, and patients are often reluctant to share this information with the doctor or simply are too overwhelmed with their care. “Caregivers can advocate for their loved ones simply by listening and sharing with the doctor, and then trusting them to make the right decisions that reflect their loved ones’ needs.”
Find Support for Yourself
The best way to be a caregiver is to take care of yourself, too. Not only does the patient feel stress, but caregivers can feel the stress, too. Acknowledging it can help with effective coping. If you can find a support group for caregivers, so much the better.
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