People all over Australia who care for a spouse, child or elderly parent with diabetes often find themselves in the difficult position of having to cajole a reluctant diabetic to follow their treatment plan.
Changing eating and exercise habits that have built up over years can be exceptionally difficult. Your loved one may also face challenges around emotional eating, navigating social situations and poor self-esteem. When caring for an adult diabetic, it’s incredibly hard to know where to draw the line between being supportive and letting them take responsibility for managing their diabetes. The newly diagnosed diabetic might be in denial or feel angry and scared about the impact diabetes will have on their life. While most people would say it’s their life; this is especially hard when it feels like it’s your life too, and your kids, and the whole family is ‘living with diabetes’ on a day-to-day basis.
There are a number of ways you can support your loved one, for example at Brand New Mindset we provide behavioural counselling services to help people overcome the mental barriers that hold them back. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and teaching psychological strategies are very helpful for overcoming emotional eating and stress. You may, also find you have an unexpected ally in your local community pharmacist. Your community pharmacy is an easily accessible source of advice and support offering a range of services for diabetes management. Most of the time you don’t need to make a booking, simply speak to your pharmacist the next time you are purchasing glucose testing strips or medication. They can answer a lot of the niggly questions when you’re unsure about whether or not your loved one should see a doctor.
Some of the mental barriers you may need to overcome:
Barrier #1: Never had to watch what they ate before
Caring for someone who has always eaten what they like and is now being advised to change their diet can be a real challenge. You may find that the grocery store has now become a battleground where your loved one loads the trolley with the unhealthy treats they’ve always eaten; and you feel like the food police because you veto their choices. Having a neutral third party who can educate your loved one about diabetic-friendly foods can help diffuse this situation.
Barrier #2: Explaining away everything as old age
Diabetes is serious, and untreated diabetes can lead to a number of complications, such as heart attacks, strokes, kidney disease, depression, anxiety, blindness and limb amputation. Your loved one might have been feeling unwell for some time, but chalked it up to getting older. It’s important for them to have regular blood pressure and cholesterol checks, which can be done by your community pharmacist. You can also ask your pharmacist if your loved one is eligible for a diabetes MedsCheck, which is an in-pharmacy medicines review. During a MedsCheck, your pharmacist will have an individual consultation on how to use the blood sugar monitor and get the best out of the diabetes medicines. They can also discuss side effects and over-the-counter medicines that might interact with their diabetic medication.
Barrier #3: Deferring to you as the ‘font of all knowledge’
When your parent or partner is first diagnosed as diabetic, it can leave them feeling overwhelmed and worried about the possible complications. You may find that they take a ‘head-in-the-sand’ approach initially, leaving you to learn as much as you can about diabetes in order to support them. While diabetes requires daily management, they need to be reassured that it doesn’t have to take over their life. Encourage your parent or partner to ask questions and equip themselves with as much information as possible.
Barrier #4: No one likes to be told ‘it’s for your own good’
No one likes to be told ‘no’ or that “it’s for your own good”, so you may have to pick your battles when it comes to food choices. However, you can stress to your loved one that there is a team of people there to support them, from health professionals like their doctor, pharmacist or counsellor, to family and friends.
Diabetes affects the entire family, not just the person diagnosed, so make sure you look after yourself as well. Having a supportive network that can provide advice and practical help when you need it is a very important part of living well with diabetes.
 Research conducted on behalf of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia 2017