How To Care For A Diabetic Parent: An In-Depth Guide

Caring for a diabetic parent can be complicated, but it can also be rewarding. This article will help you organize that many points you need to cover.
diabetes treatment for parents

Caring for a parent with diabetes can be a challenging and rewarding experience. It requires a strong commitment to supporting their health and well-being, as well as a willingness to learn about the disease and how to manage it effectively. Whether you are the primary caregiver or simply providing support to your parent, it’s important to understand the importance of blood sugar control and the various treatment options available. In this article, we will discuss some tips and strategies for caring for a diabetic parent, including how to support their self-management, navigate the healthcare system, and balance their needs with your own.

What Is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic, progressive disease characterized by high levels of sugar in the blood. It is caused by either a lack of the hormone insulin, or an inability of the body to use insulin properly. 

Insulin is necessary in order for sugar to be absorbed into the cells, where it can be used for energy. When diabetes is not controlled, sugar builds up in the blood, which can lead to serious health problems, including heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and blindness.

What Are The Different Types Of Diabetes?

older man getting a diabetes test

There are two main types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2.

Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in childhood or adolescence, and is caused by the body’s inability to produce insulin.

Type 2 diabetes is more common, and usually develops in adulthood. It is caused by the body’s inability  to use insulin properly.

Typically, Type 2 diabetes develops due to  a combination of genetic and lifestyle factors. Obesity, lack of exercise, and a diet high in sugar and unhealthy fats can all contribute to the development of Type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes can often be controlled through lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, exercising regularly, and eating a healthy diet. In some cases, medication may also be necessary to control blood sugar levels.

For the sake of this guide, we’re going to assume your parent is dealing with type 2 diabetes, since type 1 diabetes is typically managed from childhood on.

Signs Of Type 2 Diabetes

How do you know if a parent has type 2 diabetes? Here are some of the warning signs.

  1. Increased thirst and urination: If your parent is drinking more fluids and urinating more frequently, especially at night, it could be a sign of high blood sugar levels.
  2. Dry mouth and skin: High blood sugar levels can cause dehydration, which can lead to dry mouth and skin.
  3. Blurred vision: High blood sugar levels can cause changes in the shape of the lens of the eye, leading to temporary changes in vision.
  4. Slow-healing wounds: High blood sugar levels can interfere with the body’s ability to heal wounds, so if your parent has cuts or bruises that are taking longer than usual to heal, it could be a sign of diabetes.
  5. Fatigue: If your parent is feeling tired all the time, even after getting enough sleep, it could be a sign of high blood sugar levels.
  6. Frequent infections: High blood sugar levels can impair the immune system, making your parent more susceptible to infections, such as yeast infections and urinary tract infections.

If you notice any of these signs in a parent, encourage them to talk to a doctor immediately. With early diagnosis and treatment, it’s possible to control type 2 diabetes and prevent serious health complications.

Type 2 diabetes can be a silent disease. That means many people don’t know they have it until they develop one of its complications. That’s why it’s important for everyone to be aware of the signs and symptoms of type 2 diabetes and to see a doctor if any develop.

How To Care For A Diabetic Parent

diabetic parent learning

There are a number of specific things you can do to care for a parent that has diabetes.

Talk To A Medical Professional

First, talk to a medical professional about how to care for your diabetic parent. They can develop a care plan that is specific to your parent’s needs. This care plan may include regular check-ups, blood tests, and other medical appointments.

They also can tell you what symptoms and dangers to look out for, as well as make specific recommendations regarding medications, controlling symptoms, etc.

Get A Device For Checking Blood Sugar Levels

Your parent will need to check their blood sugar levels regularly. This can be done with a finger-pricking device that draws a small amount of blood, or with a continuous glucose monitor (CGM), which is a small sensor that is inserted under the skin and tracks blood sugar levels continuously. Unsurprisingly, you can find a number of glucose monitors on Amazon or elsewhere on the internet, but it’s best to consult a physician to be certain you are using the appropriate device for your parent’s individual needs.

You may need to help your parent with finger-pricking, especially if they have difficulty using their hands. You can also help by keeping track of their blood sugar levels and letting them know when they need to check or take medication.

Encourage A Change In Diet

A healthy diet is essential for anyone with diabetes, but it can be difficult to make changes. You can help by doing meal planning and cooking with your parent. Look for recipes that are low in sugar and unhealthy fats.

You can also encourage healthier eating habits by taking your parent grocery shopping with you and helping them choose healthy foods. And, when you eat out together, make an effort to find restaurants that have healthy menu options. Also, show solidarity with your parent by eating a healthy meal yourself.

Get Moving

Exercise is another important part of managing diabetes. It helps to control blood sugar levels and can also help with weight loss. You can support your parent’s efforts to be active by exercising with them or finding other activities they enjoy.

Exercise has been shown to help diabetes in several ways:

  • Reduces the chances of getting diabetes to begin with
  • Increased tolerance to glucose, which means less medication is required to manage blood sugar levels
  • Helps manage stress
  • Reduces the odds of developing more serious complications from diabetes
  • Helps with weight control

Swimming, walking, and biking are all great exercises for people with diabetes. And, there are often exercise classes specifically for people with diabetes that your parent may be interested in.

According to experts, it is best to wait an hour or so after eating before beginning any physical activity. This will help regulate blood sugar levels. When exercising away from home, your parent should pack glucose tablets or a carbohydrate snack in case of emergency, as well as water and their diabetes ID tag or card. Checking blood sugar levels regularly is key to keeping safe while working out.

Help Them Manage Stress

Stress can make blood sugar levels go up, so it’s important for people with diabetes to find ways to manage stress. You can help by being there for your parent when they need to talk.

You can also help them find other outlets for stress, such as yoga (or chair yoga), meditation, or deep breathing exercises. And, if their stress levels are consistently high, you can encourage them to talk to a therapist or counselor.

There are also meditation apps that your parent can use to guide them. These apps include:

Treat Emotional Problems

Diabetes can often lead to depression. That’s why it’s important to be aware of the signs of depression and to get help if your parent is showing any.

Symptoms of depression include feeling sad or hopeless, losing interest in activities they used to enjoy, sleeping too much or too little, having trouble concentrating, and feeling tired all the time. If you notice any of these signs, talk to a medical professional. There are medications and specific actions that can help your parent deal with depression.

Encourage Them to Quit Smoking

Smoking is very dangerous for people with diabetes. It can cause a number of health problems, including heart disease and stroke. Smoking can also cause issues with circulation, which can lead to problems with hands and feet.

If your parent smokes, it’s important to encourage them to quit. There are a number of resources available to help smokers quit, including medication, counseling, and support groups.

Encourage Daily Self-Checks

diabetic parent doing a self check

It’s important for your parent to daily check their body for things like cuts, blisters, and calluses. This is because people with diabetes can have problems with their circulation, which can make it difficult for wounds to heal.

You can help by reminding your parent to check their feet every day and helping them if they are having difficulty reaching their feet. You can also help them trim their nails and call a podiatrist if you notice any problems with their feet.

In addition to checking their feet, your parent should also check their skin for sores or infections. If they notice anything, they should see a doctor right away.

A full list of items to check is included below.

Treat Peripheral Neuropathy

Peripheral neuropathy is a common complication of diabetes. It happens when the nerves in the feet and legs are damaged. Symptoms include pain, tingling, and numbness.

There is no cure for peripheral neuropathy, but there are treatments that can help manage the symptoms. These include medication, physical therapy, and electrical stimulation. You can help by reminding your parent to take their medication as prescribed and helping them with any exercises or other treatments prescribed by their doctor.

Encourage Joining A Support Group

Dealing with diabetes is challenging, and your parent may feel alone in their battle. A support group can provide them with the emotional support they need to cope with their diagnosis.

There are a number of online and in-person support groups available. You can help your parent find a group that meets their needs by doing some research or talking to their doctor.

Help Them Maintain Regular Sleep

Sleep is very important for those with type 2 diabetes. It helps to regulate blood sugar levels and can reduce the risk of complications.

There are a few things you can do to help your parent get a good night’s sleep. First, make sure their bedroom is dark, quiet, and cool. Second, encourage them to establish a regular sleep schedule. And third, avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed.

If your parent is having difficulty sleeping, talk to their doctor. There are a number of medications that can help with insomnia.

Ensure They Take Medication Properly

It’s important for your parent to take their medication as prescribed. This includes insulin, if they are taking it. Not taking medication as prescribed can lead to complications like high or low blood sugar levels.

You can help by reminding your parent to take their medication and checking to make sure they are taking it correctly. You can also talk to their doctor if you have any concerns about their medication.

Ensure Regular Grooming

Diabetes can lead to mouth problems, such as gum disease and dry mouth. It’s important for your parent to brush and floss their teeth regularly to prevent these problems. In addition, they should see a dentist every six months for a professional cleaning.

Your parent may also need to take special care of their skin. People with diabetes are at increased risk for developing skin problems, such as fungal infections. You can help by reminding your parent to wash their skin daily and moisturize it. You should also encourage them to see a dermatologist if they notice any problems.

Consider Working With A Caregiver

Finally, there may come a point when you need to consider working with a caregiver. Caring for a diabetic parent alone is challenging, and you may need help. A caregiver can provide physical, emotional, and practical support.

If you decide to work with a caregiver, be sure to do your research. You want to find someone who is reliable and has experience caring for people with diabetes.

Navigating the Healthcare System When Caring for Someone with Diabetes

typing on a computer to understand healthcare for diabetic parent

Navigating the healthcare system can be a daunting task, especially when caring for a parent with a chronic condition like diabetes. Here are a few tips to help you navigate the healthcare system more effectively:

  1. Understand your parent’s healthcare coverage: It’s important to know what type of insurance your parent has and what it covers, as well as any out-of-pocket expenses they may be responsible for. This will help you budget for their medical care and avoid any surprise costs.

  2. Keep track of your parent’s medical records: It’s important to keep track of your parent’s medical records, including their test results, medications, and treatment plans. This will help you communicate more effectively with their healthcare providers and ensure that they receive the best possible care. We strongly suggest using WayWiser for this as it is simple to use and easy to share with other family members or professionals.

  3. Communicate with your parent’s healthcare team: Make sure to communicate regularly with your parent’s healthcare team, including their primary care doctor, endocrinologist, and any other specialists they may see. This will help you stay informed about their care and ensure that all of their healthcare needs are being met.

  4. Seek out additional resources: If you have questions or concerns about your parent’s care, don’t be afraid to seek out additional resources. This may include asking their healthcare providers for more information, consulting with a diabetes educator, or joining a support group for caregivers of people with diabetes.

Daily Diabetes Care Checklist—Complications to Examine

  1. Foot complications: People with diabetes are at risk for foot problems, including nerve damage and poor circulation. It’s important to check your parent’s feet daily for any cuts, sores, blisters, or swelling, and to encourage them to wear properly fitting shoes and socks.

  2. Nerve damage: Diabetes can cause nerve damage, also known as neuropathy, which can lead to numbness, tingling, and pain in the feet, legs, and hands. Encourage your parent to report any unusual sensations to their healthcare provider.

  3. Eye problems: Diabetes can cause a range of eye problems, including cataracts, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy. Encourage your parent to have regular eye exams to monitor for any changes in their vision or eye health.

  4. Heart disease: People with diabetes are at increased risk for heart disease, including heart attack and stroke. Encourage your parent to follow a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and take their medications as prescribed to help lower their risk of heart disease.

  5. Kidney disease: Diabetes can also lead to kidney disease, which can cause fluid retention, high blood pressure, and anemia. Encourage your parent to see their healthcare provider regularly to monitor their kidney function.

  6. Skin problems: Diabetes can cause a variety of skin problems, including dry skin, fungal infections, and poor wound healing. Encourage your parent to moisturize their skin daily and report any unusual changes to their healthcare provider.

Daily Diabetes Checklist—Staying Healthy

  1. Exercise regularly: Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each day, such as walking, biking, or swimming. Exercise can help manage blood sugar levels and improve overall health.

  2. Eat a healthy diet: A healthy diet is an important part of managing diabetes. This may involve following a specific meal plan that includes a balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fats, as well as monitoring portion sizes and avoiding certain types of foods.

  3. Take medications as prescribed: If your parent is taking insulin or other medications to manage their diabetes, make sure to administer them as prescribed. This may involve giving injections, taking pills, or using an insulin pump.

  4. Monitor blood sugar levels: Regularly check your parent’s blood sugar levels to ensure that they are within the target range. This may involve using a blood glucose meter to check their levels at home or relying on continuous glucose monitoring devices.

  5. Get enough sleep: Adequate sleep is important for overall health and can help manage blood sugar levels. Encourage your parent to get 7-9 hours of sleep per night.

  6. Manage stress: Chronic stress can interfere with blood sugar control, so it’s important to find healthy ways to manage stress, such as through relaxation techniques, exercise, or talking to a therapist.

Have another question? Ask an expert.

Our team is here for you. If you have a question about caring for an older adult or other member of your family—be it physical, legal, medical, financial, or anything in between—we’ll have one of our Trusted Advisors get back to you ASAP.

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