How to Help a Loved One Adjust to a New Diabetes Diagnosis

Adjusting to a medical diagnosis that affects lifestyle choices and one’s sense of self can be overwhelming at first.

If someone you care about has recently been diagnosed with diabetes, you will naturally want to help them accept and make necessary changes. Knowing what to expect and about proven ways to assist your loved one can make the adjustment easier for you.

Feelings and Attitudes

Feelings. As you and your loved one adjust to the diabetes diagnosis, you may both experience a cascade of feelings including sadness, grief, anger, fear, anxiety, denial or emotional numbness. Acknowledge and accept the feelings, whatever they might be, since there is no right or wrong way to feel. Balance them by reminding yourself that diabetes management is typically overwhelming at first, but eventually becomes part of the daily routine.

Be in the Know. Help your loved one by learning about diabetes. This is important whether you are caring for a child with the diagnosis or helping an adult learn to manage it. Asking the doctor for educational materials and visiting the American Diabetes Association’s or Mayo Clinic’s websites (diabetes.org, mayoclinic.org) are good ways to get your education started.

The Tortoise Wins the Race. A diagnosis such as diabetes can send shock waves through a family. Though there may be a sense of urgency to learn and change everything right away, give yourself and others time to process thoughts and feelings, and talk about them. People tend to adjust to unwanted change more readily when feelings and concerns are shared with others.

Think Small. Small lifestyle changes made consistently, such as taking a walk after dinner, turn into habits. Although you may be anxious for your loved one to perfect their diabetes management right away, it is more realistic to make one to three small changes at a time. When those changes start to become habitual, then other small changes can be added.

The Helpful Helper

Partner Up. Encouraging someone to make lifestyle changes is good, but making the changes with them is more helpful. Taking a daily walk, or looking for delicious low-carb recipes with your diabetic spouse, family member or friend can make a daunting adjustment easier and more enjoyable for him or her.

Support Good, Nagging Bad. Though your intentions may be the best, “miscarried helping,” or nagging, often backfires. No one responds well to constant reminders or feeling ordered around. It is usually more effective to express genuine feeling or concern, such as, “I get anxious for you when I know you haven’t checked your blood sugar like you’re supposed to.”

Children with diabetes naturally require supervision. As they mature, however, they can be given some responsibility for their own care. Experienced caregivers recommend giving a diabetic child one task at a time and allowing them to master it before adding others. If the task proves too difficult, take some responsibility back until the child is ready.

Be Specific. Only offer help if you have the time and energy to give it, and be specific about what you can do. For instance, “Let me know if you need a ride to a doctor’s appointment,” or, “I’d be happy to help you plan some interesting diabetes-friendly meals,” or, “If you want to walk with someone in the mornings, I’d love to.”

Join the Team. Be a second ear and an advocate for the patient. If your loved one agrees, attend their diabetes-related appointments (e.g., doctor, dietician, educator). By listening carefully, you can help remember what was said, and if the patient forgets or is reluctant to share something with the medical team, you can fill in the blanks.

Helping Yourself

Take Care of Yourself. You cannot help another unless you take care of yourself. Being a diabetic person’s caregiver or supporter can be stressful. You will need nutritious meals, exercise, plenty of sleep, and time to play and relax. Consider joining a caregiver support group – it is a relief to be with people who know exactly what you are experiencing, and support groups are a great place to share ideas and resources.

Source: American Diabetes Assoc

Photo credit: Chany Crystal on Flickr

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