Helping a Family Member Who Has Diabetes

Helping a Family Member Who Has Diabetes Family Doctor Logo

Why does a person who has diabetes need help?

It isn’t easy for people to hear that they have diabetes. Diabetes is a disease that cannot be cured. It has to be taken care of every day. People who have diabetes must make some important changes in their lives. To stay healthy, they have to learn how to monitor and control their blood sugar levels. People who don’t control their blood sugar levels can develop serious health problems, such as blindness, nerve damage and kidney failure. This handout will tell you about ways to help your loved one who has diabetes.

How can I help my relative who has diabetes?

First, learn all you can about diabetes. The more you know, the more you can help. Encourage your relative to learn about diabetes, also.

Second, be sympathetic. It can be scary at first for people to find out they have diabetes. Your relative may be frustrated with the changes he or she has to make. Tell your relative that you understand how he or she feels. But don’t let your relative use these feelings as an excuse for not taking care of his or her diabetes.

How can I help my relative make healthy changes?

If you eat meals together, eat the same foods your relative eats. Avoid buying foods he or she isn’t supposed to eat. People who have diabetes should generally follow the same advice for healthy eating as everyone else: Eat foods that are low in fat, cholesterol, salt and added sugar. Choose a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and fish.

Encourage exercise. You might even want to exercise together. Walking, jogging, bicycling, swimming and dancing are all good activities that will help both of you get enough exercise. Your relative should talk to his or her doctor to find out what kind of exercise to try.

What else can I do?

Learn how to recognize signs of problems. Learn the symptoms of a high blood sugar level (called hyperglycemia) and a low blood sugar level (called hypoglycemia). Understand that when your relative is very cranky or has a bad temper, his or her blood sugar level may be too high or too low. Rather than arguing, encourage your relative to check the blood sugar level and take steps to correct the problem.

High blood sugar (hyperglycemia)

This often happens when the person who has diabetes has eaten too much, is sick, has too little insulin in his or her body or is under a lot of stress. Symptoms of hyperglycemia include the following:

  • Frequent urination
  • Extreme thirst
  • Blurry vision
  • Feeling very tired

Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)

This often happens when the person who has diabetes has not eaten very much, has too much insulin in his or her body or has exercised beyond his or her limits. Signs of hypoglycemia include the following:

  • Feeling very tired
  • Frequent yawning
  • Being unable to speak or think clearly
  • Loss of muscle coordination
  • Sweating
  • Twitching
  • Seizures
  • Suddenly feeling like you’re going to pass out
  • Becoming very pale
  • Loss of consciousness

Be patient and stick with it!

Learning how to live with diabetes takes time. Your relative will have good days and bad days. Times of stress may be the hardest. When people who have diabetes are under stress, they may have more trouble controlling their blood sugar level. When this happens, try to help the person keep things in perspective and get back on track. Provide reminders to eat healthy and to exercise. If the person is feeling frustrated and angry, encourage him or her to have a positive attitude that focuses on solving problems.

This handout was developed by the American Academy of Family Physicians in cooperation with the American Diabetes Association.