Trusted medical advice from the
American Academy of Family Physicians.

Helping a Family Member Who Has Diabetes

It isn’t easy for people to hear that they have diabetes. Diabetes is a disease that cannot be cured. It must 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 do this can develop serious health problems, such as blindness, nerve damage, and kidney failure. But there are things you can do 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 too. Going to a diabetes education class together may help.

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 they have to make. Tell your relative that you understand how they feel. But don’t let your relative use these feelings as an excuse for not taking care of their diabetes.

Path to improved health

In addition to being emotionally supportive, you can also help your relative to make healthy changes. This will help your relative manage their diabetes.

If you eat meals together, eat the same foods your relative eats. Avoid buying foods they aren’t supposed to eat. Healthy-eating rules are the same for everyone, including people who have diabetes. 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 their 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). Also learn the symptoms of low blood sugar level (called hypoglycemia). Understand that when your relative is cranky or has a bad temper, their blood sugar level may be too high or too low. Rather than arguing, encourage your relative to check their blood sugar level and take steps to correct the problem.

High blood sugar

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

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

Low blood sugar

This often happens when the person who has diabetes has not eaten very much, has too much insulin in their body, or has exercised beyond their 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.

Things to consider

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 them to be patient and stick with it. Make sure they also are seeing their doctor regularly.

When to see a doctor

Symptoms of high blood sugar and low blood sugar may be mild and barely noticeable. Other times, they are more severe, especially if sugar levels are at extremes.

Any symptom of high or low blood sugar over several days should alert you that it may be time to call the doctor. It could be that your family member’s medicine should be adjusted.

A sudden drop in blood sugar can be a real health threat for people who have diabetes. If your family member shows signs of having dangerously low blood sugar, offer them some sugary candy. Then, call for emergency medical help.

Signs of dangerously low blood sugar include:

  • Dizziness
  • Shaking
  • Headache
  • Blurry vision
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Confusion
  • Slurring words
  • Loss of consciousness

Questions for your doctor

  • My family member has diabetes. Does this mean that I am more likely to get diabetes?
  • I can’t get my family member to regularly check his or her blood sugar. What should I do?
  • How important is diet for someone who has diabetes?
  • Can my family member eat some sugar now that they are on diabetes medication?


American Diabetes Association

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: Managing Diabetes


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