Families have an important role to play in supporting
someone living with diabetes, and helping them avoid the
potentially life changing complications of the condition.
The families of those at high risk of Type 2 diabetes also
have an important role to play in helping their ‘at risk’
family member avoid the condition.
Whether someone in your family has Type 1 or Type 2, or you’re worried
that someone in your family is at risk of developing Type 2, Diabetes UK’s Head of Care, Dan Howarth, has a few simple things you can do as a family to help.
WHAT TO DO IF SOMEONE IN YOUR FAMILY HAS TYPE 1:
If you have Type 1 diabetes, your body isn’t able to produce any insulin, the hormone which allows glucose to enter our cells and fuel our bodies. 10% of people with diabetes in the UK have Type 1. It has nothing to do with diet or lifestyle, it just happens.
The family of someone living with Type 1 can do a few simple things to support their loved one. Whether this support is emotional or practical, having your family there to help you manage your Type 1 diabetes can make it that little bit easier.
When you live with Type 1, you know you need to check your blood glucose
several times a day. Your family also knows this, and because they care for you they may be concerned if they don’t see you checking your levels regularly. However, family members need to remember that overbearing and constant questions about blood glucose levels can be frustrating.
The urge to constantly question is a tough one to fight; after all, we want to do the best by the ones we love, but it’s as important to just be there to listen and support them. This emotional support is far more valuable than continually hassling someone with Type 1 about their glucose levels.
Everyone living with diabetes is entitled to free check-ups with a healthcare professional. We call these ‘The 15 Healthcare Essentials’. They include an eye screening, foot and leg check, kidney tests, emotional and psychological support, to name a few. They’re all free, and are so important in avoiding the complications of diabetes.
Make sure your family member knows what they’re entitled to. Print off a copy of ‘The 15 Healthcare Essentials’ and give it to them. Offer to go to their appointments with them if they’d like you to, or help them book an appointment if you know they’re busy.
Managing diabetes can be a challenge for anyone living with the condition. It can feel overwhelming, isolating and scary. It’s vital that people living with diabetes feel supported, which is why families are so important.
Educate yourself about Type 1, there’s nothing more frustrating than having to explain Type 1, or dispel myths about your condition because the people who care about you haven’t spent a bit of time educating themselves. No one expects the whole family to become experts in diabetes, but having some basic knowledge can make talking to your family member about their Type 1, and how you can help, easier and more productive for everyone involved.
HELPING YOUR FAMILY MEMBER MANAGE TYPE 2:
Unlike Type 1, people living with Type 2 can produce insulin, but their insulin doesn’t work properly so blood glucose levels keep rising, meaning more insulin is released. This can eventually tire out the pancreas, meaning it is less and less able to produce insulin, leading to even higher blood glucose levels.
90% of people with diabetes in the UK have Type 2. There are a number of risk factors involved in developing Type 2, but a person’s weight is the key one that we can influence. Living a healthy, more active lifestyle and eating more healthily can make a big difference in helping people manage their Type 2 diabetes.
Talk to your family member about their Type 2, and understand what changes they need to make to their lifestyle and eating habits. Once you understand what they want to change, make those changes with them. Having to change long established habits, eat different meals to the rest of the family, or start being more active alone can feel isolating. If you as a family commit to living and eating more healthily, you can make it easier for your family member living with Type 2 diabetes. They’ll feel more supported, less isolated and it makes it clear that you’re there for them.
If your family member has decided to be more active, and wants to start taking an after-dinner walk, go as a family. Use the diagnosis as a chance for the whole family to live more healthily. If one of your family members has developed Type 2 due to being overweight, the chances are others in your family will also be at high risk of developing Type 2. Take your risk factor into your own hands as a family, and live a healthier, more active lifestyle.
The same applies for eating. If your loved one wants to eat more healthily, use this as an opportunity to eat more healthily as a family. Sit down together to plan your healthy meals, and buy healthier food on your weekly shop. If you know you’ve got a busy week coming up, cook healthy meals in bulk and freeze portions so you can avoid resorting to fast food when you’re too busy to cook.
WHAT IF YOU’RE ONE OF THE MILLIONS AT RISK?
There are 12.3 million people in the UK at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. 60% of cases of Type 2 can be delayed or prevented through lifestyle changes. Make the lifestyle and diet changes you need to make together as a family to both help your family member manage their already diagnosed Type 2, and help the rest of the family minimise their risk of developing Type 2.
Use our ‘Know Your Risk’ tool (https://riskscore.diabetes.org.uk/start), to find out
how at risk you all are, then work together as a family to take your risk factor into your own hands.
Like we’ve said, plan healthy meals as a family, start playing a sport together, go on a family stroll after dinner, buy healthier food on your weekly shop and avoid buying snack food. It’s hard changing established habits, but making these changes together as a family can make it that little bit easier for everyone.