Helping or caring for an older adult with diabetes can feel like a lot to take on. There's the challenge of caregiving—because what seems best for someone isn't always what that person wants to do. You may worry about invading your loved one's privacy or free will. There's also the stress of learning how to manage diabetes and often other health problems. No less important, there is your need for good health and balance in your own life.
How can you be a good caregiver and feel good about it? First, team up with your loved one and his or her doctor. And don't try to do it all.
Stop to think a moment. When you're in need, how does it feel to accept help from another person? Do you feel relief, or gratitude? Maybe something else? How does it feel when you and your helper don't agree? No one likes to be told what to do, right?
As a caregiver, it's likely that you've run into this problem when offering help. For example, the more you try to change how someone eats, the less agreement you get.
That's why caregiving is an art. At its best, it's an other-centered way of thinking, asking, listening, and responding. That can mean:
A main goal of caregiving is to help your loved one have the best quality of life possible. To learn what that means for your loved one, try asking questions like:
Help and support however you can, based on your time and ability. If there are critical needs that you can't meet, talk about them with your loved one. Think about having more than one caregiver, or maybe a home health aide.
Knowing your loved one's treatment plan helps you to be a better caregiver. If you can, go with your loved one on doctor visits. The doctor can help you know what care is most important, such as preventing and treating low blood sugar.
Don't be surprised if the doctor's treatment approach becomes more relaxed. That's because for a lot of older, sicker people with diabetes, strict blood sugar control doesn't offer the health benefits it used to.
Supporting shared decisions with the doctor
The later years of life are an ideal time for a doctor and patient to share in medical decisions. Together, they can decide what to treat and how to treat it, based on the patient's health and preferences.
If you see a need, help your loved one think through such medical decision questions as:
Partnering with the doctor
During doctor visits, support your loved one in partnering with the doctor. Help your loved one follow these guidelines:
Depending on how well your loved one can think, speak, and remember, you may be able to help by playing a go-between role. Try asking your loved one guiding questions in front of the doctor, such as "Do you understand this information? What do you think of that idea?"
Try to use food to prevent big jumps and drops in your loved one's blood sugar. This does not mean "no sugar" and "only special diabetic foods." Instead, eating smart with diabetes means:
When a loved one with diabetes isn't eating well, it's pretty easy to take on the role of "food police." The problem is that no one likes to be told how to eat. If you are struggling with this caretaker challenge, try to shift your approach.
When you're a caretaker, your loved one depends on you to also care for yourself and stay well. That can be hard to do when someone else's needs seem more urgent. So if you haven't thought much about your own needs lately, ask yourself some questions.
Give this a little thought. And decide what support, help, or change you might need to help your loved one have the best quality of life possible.
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