Supporting Someone With Diabetes: Challenges, Needs, Inspiration
If you are a family member of someone with diabetes and experience constant concern for your diabetic loved one’s well-being, you are not alone.
Recent research at Penn State examined the way diabetes affects the lifestyle of, and the relationship among, those having diabetes and their close family members.
The study was a qualitative one, analyzing participant experiences and perceptions to understand how diabetes impacts quality of life, and to determine unmet needs.
More than 2,000 adult families in 17 countries participated. The respondents were mostly female, and typically a spouse, partner, or parent of an adult with type1 or type 2 diabetes.
Supporting Role Themes
After evaluating the collected responses, researchers identified four themes shared by supportive family members:
- Frequent worries about the daily struggles faced by the person with diabetes, including concern about low blood sugar episodes, and employment stability.
- Emotional strain in relationships between family members and the person with diabetes.
- Having some, but not enough supportive resources to manage the stress and lifestyle changes engendered by diabetes.
- Feeling inspired by a loved one’s handling of their diabetes, and being motivated to make healthier choices.
"This research reveals the nature and extent of what it's like to live with a person with diabetes," said lead researcher Heather Stuckey, assistant professor, Penn State College of Medicine. "The biggest challenge we identified for family members is that there's a constant worry about the person. It's in the background like an app that's always running."
The Penn State researchers hope their work influences the medical community and insurance carriers to do more for those supporting diabetes patients, such as including them in educational sessions—especially since earlier studies linked strong family support to better diabetes outcomes.
Meanwhile, to help themselves, those in supportive roles can:
- Learn about diabetes through well-referenced books, websites, blogs, and videos.
- Accompany the diabetes patient to their doctor visits—take notes, and ask clarifying questions.
- Now and again, let the person with diabetes know that their resilience or perseverance is inspirational.
- Ask the person with diabetes how they wish to be helped, and express what you feel willing and capable of doing. Then, realistic expectations can be negotiated and understood.
- Stay active, socialize regularly, and make time to enjoy personal interests.
- Learn/practice a relaxation technique such as meditation, Tai chi, Qigong, breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, or visualization.
Also, consider joining a care-giver’s support group, either in-person or online, and if the demands of daily life become consistently overwhelming, talk to your physician, or a mental health counselor.
“Accept where you are, accept what you have, accept who you are - do what you can with all of that and let it be enough.”
~ Nikki Rowe