We often consider diabetes as lightly as a bad bout of cold; after all, it is not life-threatening. You have seen that Uncle in your building going for morning walks or your manager dealingwith deadlines like a pro, despite having diabetes.
Diabetes may not seem as life-threatening as cancer or chronic heart disease as it does not show life-threatening symptoms right away, however, it is a silent killer. It can cause havoc in the patient and the caregiver’s lives over the years if it is not managed well.
My father got diabetes in his early 30’s. No one was surprised since most of my family members have it, and they led a good life even with the disease. But, my father’s case was different. Over the years, I saw my father’s life transition from a confident, hard-working, and successful engineer to a person confined to his bed due to multiple complications associated with diabetes.
My father never smoked; neither did he consume alcohol. His only mistake was he did not keep his sugar levels under control. As a primary caregiver of my father, I have seen diabetes attacking every part of his body slowly. We had no one to guide us, and I don’t blame anyone for it. There is very little awareness of the extent of damage that diabetes can do to people’s lives. That’s why I would like to share a few actionable tips on how you can look after your loved ones and yourself.
Diabetes – it goes beyond the pancreas
Our science textbooks told us that diabetes occurs when the pancreas stops producing enough insulin. This results in increasing the blood sugar levels and leads to multiple issues such as fatigue, frequent urination, unexplained weight loss or weight gain, etc. Read more about the condition here.
However, not everyone knows that diabetes goes beyond attacking the pancreas and can lead to various other serious complications:
- Diabetes Retinopathy – affects the eyes leading to reduced vision and even blindness
- Diabetes Neuropathy – damage to the nervous system
- Diabetes Nephropathy –affects the kidney causing kidney damage
- Cardiovascular diseases –affects the blood vessels and the heart, leading to coronary issues
World Health Organization (WHO), ranks Diabetes as the sixth most deadly disease in the world, causing the death of 1.6 million people worldwide. It is also a leading cause of blindness, heart attacks, lower limb amputation, and kidney disease.
So, if you have been focusing only on the pancreas, it’s time to look beyond and have a holistic approach to stop diabetes from creating anymore damage, and the first step is to find ways to help your loved ones to cope with the disease effectively.
Ways To Help Your Loved Ones Cope With Diabetes
- Diabetic-Friendly Interiors: The healing process for cuts etc., in diabetic patients, is slower than for other people. Replace any furniture that has sharp edges with smoothened ones to avoid injuries where bleeding may occur. Find ways to organize and de-clutter your house better. For example, ensure that toys are placed back to avoid accidentally stepping on one. Try a minimalist design to make your home as clutter-free and accident-proof as possible. If the patient has retinopathy, opt for light-coloured curtains, sofa covers, bedsheets, etc., so they do not have difficulty manoeuvring around the house.
- Buy Diabetes Footwear: Diabetic people have a higher risk of injuring their foot, which if ignored, can even lead to amputation of the foot. It is important to buy appropriate footwear that allows better blood circulation. There are different types of diabetes footwear and I would recommend that you speak to the doctor about the right type before buying something for the patient.
- It’s Not Just About Avoiding Sugar: Diabetes control needs a complete overhaul of lifestyle beyond sugar and sweet avoidance. From taking medications on time, to the right diet and exercising for a minimum of 30 minutes a day, for all these, your loved one will need encouragement for the effort.
- Watch Out For Other Symptoms And Injuries: Diabetes can affect every part of the body if not managed. Hence, look out for unusual symptoms in your loved ones and immediately bring it to the attention of the doctor. Is that injury taking a lot of time to heal or developing puss? Is the patient complaining of blurry vision, or is he hurting himself often? Are the legs swollen? These are some symptoms you must watch out for in your loved ones, no matter how minor the problem might seem to you right now.
- Opting For Alternate Therapies: Your well-meaning friends and relatives may recommend alternative treatments for controlling or reversing diabetes. There are quite a few – water therapy, green smoothie therapy, etc. Some of them may have shown positive results in people, but not all therapies are meant for every patient. For example, a person with diabetic nephropathy can certainly not drink 3 litres of water to flush excess glucose out of the system. If anything, it would only hasten the process of deterioration. So, before you experiment, consult your doctor.
- Obtain Disability Benefits For Complications Caused By Diabetes:When my father lost his vision to diabetes retinopathy, we were not aware of the benefits he can avail. In case of any permanent disability, check with the doctor or a social worker associated with the hospital about the benefits they can avail from the Government. You can also read about disability rights and benefits in India here.
It’s Not Just About Them;It’s About You Too!
As a caregiver, you have a crucial role to play, especially when the patient develops complications related to diabetes. The journey can get so overwhelming that you might end up ignoring your own health. My mother, who was originally my father’s primary caregiver, had to be admitted to the hospital recently. Reason? She had ignored her health while tending to my father.
Caregiving is not just about looking after the patient; it’s also about paying attention to your the obvious reasons but also to ensure the quality of care for the patient.
- Test Yourself For Diabetes: Diabetes can be hereditary. So, if the patient is your parent or sibling, you must monitor your sugar levels at least annually – either with the glucometer, you have at home or at the nearest lab. Don’t dismiss symptoms like fatigue or tingling in the foot or in case of other symptoms, do get yourself checked immediately.
- Maintain Your Sugar Levels: As caregivers, we often ignore ourselves and experience stress while looking after the patient. Sometimes we may overeat or even eat nothing. Whether you have diabetes or not,keep checking your sugar levels to maintain it.
- Don’t Compromise On Your Own Diet:My mother fell sick because she ate the same low-salt, low-protein food that my father was asked to eat for his kidney problems. A patient has different dietary needs than a person with no diabetes complications. So, do not compromise on your own diet. Check with your dietician to know what you must eat. Yes, it can be time-consuming to cook different food for you and the patient. Find ways to simplify the process so that neither has to compromise. For example, if the doctor has recommended both of you to eat a lot of raw vegetables, then you may make salads a part of your diet.
- Maintain A Healthy Lifestyle: If you follow LukeCoutinho’s videos, know that you have to – eat right, move more, sleep well, and breathe deep. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is not an option for caregivers; it is mandatory! Dedicate at least an hour for yourself, so you can recharge your battery and take better care of your loved one.
- Seek Help Wherever Possible: Remember, you are not alone in your journey. I was desperately looking for ways to deal with my caregiving journey, and I have felt a lot better after interacting with other caregivers. Today, I know I am not alone. Most caregivers develop anxiety, depression, and anger through their journey. They isolate themselves from others and suffer alone. You will be surprised to know that people are willing to help you if you ask for it. All you need to do is reach out to the people whom you think will understand and help you.
- Build Your Support Ecosystem:As the patient becomes dependent on you for their daily routine, you need to build a robust ecosystem. Speak to the doctor, other caregivers, the nurses in the hospital, etc. and build a list of people who can advise and even help you. It’s critical to have a “care team” comprisingthe primary doctor, a nurse who can administer injections and IV if needed, a caretaker to look after the patient while you are occupied, and a reliable pharmacist who can give you discounts on regularly needed expensive medicines. The more support you have, the easier will be your caregiving journey.
I hope you find these tips useful. Please do comment below or write to [email protected]