Diabetes Care: How do I Care for a Loved One with Diabetes?
Diabetes is a serious condition, which makes it difficult for the body to control its stores of glucose. The body’s inability to produce or to efficiently use insulin leads to blood sugar levels that are too high, which can lead to other health complications.
Diabetes can be Type 1 or Type 2. Type 1 requires regular injections of insulin and is usually diagnosed early on in life. Type 2 is often associated with several health issues, such as being overweight or eating an unhealthy diet. Type 2 diabetes can be controlled through medication but is usually kept at bay entirely through proper nutrition, weight loss and exercise.
If you’re involved in caring for a loved one with diabetes, there are plenty of steps that you can take to ensure that they remain in good health, keeping any diabetes symptoms to an absolute minimum.
Discuss the condition with your loved one
If your loved one has Type 1 diabetes, the chances are that they’ve been managing their condition for many years. They will already know how to check their blood sugar levels and administer an appropriate amount of insulin, so you need to ask questions to establish how their routine works. Take notes and set out a diabetes care plan in writing so that you, your loved one and any home care assistants know what is required.
Type 2 diabetes is more likely to have been recently diagnosed, in which case controlling the condition will be as new to your loved one as it is to you. If this is the case, make sure that your loved one’s live-in care assistant is fully informed about what is required to control diabetes. Discuss the condition with your loved one and with their medical team, so that you are familiar with the type of medication and lifestyle changes that are needed.
Check glucose levels at regular intervals
Keeping a close eye on your loved one’s blood sugar levels is crucial to the effective management of their diabetes and is a vital part of diabetes care. It’s well worth noting that older people have a higher risk of experiencing hypoglycaemia, or low blood sugar, which can lead to sweating, hunger, dizzy spells and confusion.
If this occurs, you or your loved one’s elderly care helper will need to administer an appropriate dose of sugar, or carbohydrates to bring the levels back to normal again. This could be in the form of a teaspoon of sugar or honey, a glass of fruit juice or even a few savoury crackers. If the symptoms don’t quickly resolve after this, you will need to ask for advice from a medical professional as a matter of urgency.
Colin and Dulcie’s story
Dulcie is 102-years-old and lives with her son Colin, his wife Mary, and her Carer Sarah. She has dementia and has had full-time live-in care for over two years.
We talk to the family about the challenges of finding the right care solution for a fiercely independent woman - and how the positive benefits of live-in care with Sarah has transformed all of their lives.
Look out for subtle changes in your loved one
Keep an eye out for signs of the ageing process in your loved one. They may find that their vision is not as good as it was; they may experience more pain than before, and they may struggle with fine motor skills. Although these are typical aspects of growing older, the implications for a diabetes patient are a cause for concern. For example, your loved one may find it increasingly challenging to inject themselves or to perform the necessary pin-prick test to check their blood sugar levels.
If you see any changes in your loved one’s behaviour or manner, it’s essential to discuss this with them. Offer up solutions, such as taking over the injections yourself or by helping to set out the day’s medication in advance.
It’s also important to be aware of the increased risk of developing dementia in older people. Diabetes care can be successfully combined with dementia care, but it requires strict protocols to be in place so that everyone involved in your loved one’s care knows what is needed and when. Dementia symptoms make it much harder to spot signs of an impending hypoglycaemic attack, for example, so any care assistants must have a deep understanding of your loved one’s condition.
If diabetes is to be kept entirely under control, your loved one will need to abide by a strict medical regime, with medication required at regular intervals. Missing a dose, or accidentally taking too much medication can have serious implications, so it’s essential to set up adequate controls. Many diabetes patients use dedicated pillboxes with separate compartments for each dose, making it easy to see where your loved one is on their schedule.
Where dementia is involved, or if your loved one is particularly forgetful, it might be helpful to store medicines out of sight so that they aren’t tempted to take an extra dose by mistake.
Encourage regular health checks
Diabetes has several associated health issues, so it’s essential to make sure that your loved one remains as fit and healthy as possible. Feet and eyes are two particular areas of concern as diabetes often affects them adversely. Regular eye checks with an optician and foot checks with a chiropodist need to be arranged, either by yourself or by your loved one’s live-in care worker.
Prepare a dedicated meal plan
Diet plays such an essential role in the life of a diabetes patient, and it’s well worth taking the time to ask a nutritional expert to prepare a dedicated meal plan for your loved one. Adequate nutrition is at the core of a diabetes management plan, and a trained dietician will create a menu that takes into account your loved one’s tastes.
It’s also worth seeking out a private care worker with experience in coping with diabetes in the elderly, as this gives everyone in the family peace of mind.
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