When someone you care about has Type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is a serious long-term condition and can lead to complications if not well managed, so it can be hard being on the sidelines when someone close to you has it. Find some help and ideas for life with Type 2 diabetes here

July, 2017

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How much support does someone with Type 2 diabetes need?

It’s hard to know what to do when someone you care about becomes very ill, from fussing and trying to “help” with every single little thing, to trying to minimise it all and do nothing. How involved you should get with your loved one’s Type 2 diabetes is something that the two of you can decide; the key is deciding the level of involvement together. That way you can provide the level of support they want.

When one calls it “reminding” and the other calls it “nagging”

If you’re the kind of person who just wants to help, it can be frustrating when someone you care about seems to not take their health or Type 2 diabetes seriously. It can lead to feeling like you’re constantly reminding them to test their blood glucose levels, to exercise, to eat, to not eat – because you’re worried that if you didn’t remind them, they’d forget and their health would soon suffer. However, what you intend as help can come across to them as nagging. It may be that they haven’t forgotten at all, but that they would like to forget about Type 2 diabetes – even if it is just for an hour or so. There may be more going on under the surface than simply not being bothered or “forgetting” medication.

Stay on the line

If you want to support your loved one (or someone you look after) to help them stay healthy with Type 2 diabetes, it’s essential to keep talking. They may have their own reasons for not following their doctor’s advice. If you can understand those reasons by talking them through, you’ll not only be able to be more use in practical ways, but may also feel better about things yourself, and less like you’re nagging. You’ll also be showing your loved one that you care about them and their health, which can help THEM feel more secure.

How can I look after someone with Type 2 diabetes and still be myself?

There’s no need to suddenly turn into your loved one’s parent, boss, head teacher, or doctor. They’ll have already had at least two of those already, and will have a diabetes specialist nurse too – there’s no need for you to take on those roles as well. Below are some practical ideas for you that might help you find the balance between trying to take care of someone, and taking over. Besides which, you have your own life, with your own friends and interests, and those things are still valuable and worth keeping hold of.

We’ve got a few ideas for those of you who care for someone with Type 2 diabetes. As carers and loved ones can be very different, there are separate sections:

Practical ideas for loved ones

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Remember that although your loved one has Type 2 diabetes, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are going to be ill all the time. While it’s important to remember that Type 2 diabetes is serious and long-term, and can lead to complications if not well managed, people with Type 2 diabetes can be healthy and live long and well, so long as they take their medications and follow medical advice about lifestyle.

Should I take up healthier habits too?

It can make things easier on your loved one if you start taking up healthier habits alongside them. It would be tough for them to feel like they’re on a diet and having to exercise alone if you’re eating whole tubs of ice-cream and putting your feet up. The benefits of healthy eating and doing more exercise apply to all of us, whether or not we have Type 2 diabetes.

Come to an agreement

Come to an agreement with your loved one about how involved you will get on a day-to-day basis. No-one wants to feel like they’re being judged all the time, but equally no-one wants to feel that nobody cares about them either.

Get yourself health literate

It can be helpful to learn more about Type 2 diabetes, including causes and treatments. If you can understand what everything is for and why it has been advised, you can be of more practical help, knowing what to do when problems arise. Have a look at our section “Inside diabetes” to get a more in-depth understanding of what Type 2 diabetes does and how it does it.

Know what to do when your partner with Type 2 diabetes gets ill

Someone with Type 2 diabetes will need a bit of extra TLC when they get ill – even with a cold or an upset stomach – as it can have an effect on their blood glucose levels. Have a read of “What to do when you’re ill” to learn more about the signs to look for.

Have important phone numbers to hand

Have important phone numbers to hand if you need to call someone for help. Useful numbers include your GP surgery, your loved one’s diabetes specialist nurse, and the NHS 111 service.

Diabetes symptoms can be hard to live with

Remember that when someone has very high or low blood glucose levels, the symptoms can include mental confusion or anger. They may say or do things that are out of the ordinary, and can even appear to be drunk. They may say hurtful things that they don’t really mean. Sometimes just the stress of trying to manage diabetes can be enough to put someone in a bad mood. Try to persuade them to test their blood glucose levels when this happens, to check whether being high or low could be causing it. Then you can take action together to bring their levels closer to where they should be.

Keep talking

Don’t let Type 2 diabetes control your relationship, or come between you. If you work together, you can keep diabetes firmly in its place – as a health issue to be mindful of, but not something that rules both your lives.

Practical ideas for carers

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Supporting someone with Type 2 diabetes can be demanding – physically and mentally. Bearing that in mind, you may find some of these suggestions helpful:

Learn the diabetes lingo

Knowing the right terms for medical procedures and the various things that go alongside Type 2 diabetes can not only be of practical use when talking to healthcare professionals, but can also make the whole thing feel less scary and unknown.

Ask the person you are caring for how they would like you to represent them. They may rely on you to communicate with others, particularly healthcare professionals.

Get to know the medications and lifestyle advice that’s been given

It can be helpful to learn more about Type 2 diabetes, including causes and treatments.  If you can understand what everything is for and why it has been advised, it will help you organise the care you give. Read instructions and learn to identify medications from the packaging AND what the tablets look like.

Work with the person you care for to keep track of blood glucose levels

If you care for someone with Type 2 diabetes who is capable of sorting this out for themselves, there’s no need to do this for them. Independence is to be encouraged as far as possible. It’s good for you to have a fairly clear idea of what’s going on with their blood glucose levels, though, so you can identify whether a problem is likely to arise. For example, if the person you care for lets you know that their blood glucose is high and seems to be rising, you can be ready to take action.

Keep an eye on possible complications

Alongside scheduled medical check-ups, check in regularly to keep an eye on possible complications of Type 2 diabetes. If you know how the person you care for usually is, you can spot changes as they arise and take action sooner rather than later. Things to keep an eye on that may be signs of Type 2 diabetes getting worse (progressing) include:

  • Broken skin on the feet and lower legs, turning into ulcers – or if the area turns warm, red and/or swollen
  • Any infections
  • Wounds that take a long time to heal
  • Losing sight, finding it harder to read
  • Tingling, numbness, losing the ability to feel pain

Don’t forget that people experiencing high or low blood sugar can sometimes get confused or angry, and say things they may not really mean. Try not to take things they say to heart when they are in this hypo- or hyperglycaemic state; it’s the Type 2 diabetes talking, not the person you care for.