Diabetes Health Type 2: How Do We Educate Loved Ones Who Don’t Have Diabetes

Patrick Totty

For us type 2s, it’s necessary to be somewhat self-centered in the sense that nobody else can manage our diabetes as well as we can. After all, we’re the ones stuck with the ceaseless monitoring, dosing, tracking, carb watching, and remembering to exercise. We can’t get other people to take our place.


But we can teach other people to be as almost as mindful of our disease as we are, at least in the sense of knowing what distress signals to look for and how to help us in what may be moments of great need.


Here’s a list of some things the non-diabetic people in your life can do whether you’re having a diabetes crisis or just coping with diabetic life in general:


1. Make the people around you aware of hypoglycemia and what they can do to help you treat it when it happens.


This is probably the most important item on this list. All of us type 2s live in dread of it. It’s an event that is never too far from our minds. So what can somebody do to help us?


First, we have to teach friends and loved ones why we fear hypoglycemia. Once they realize that if gone undiagnosed it can become a life-threatening condition, they’ll be ready to learn what they can do.


Next is for them to learn to detect the symptoms of hypoglycemia, such as sweats, shakes, a decrease in mental sharpness, etc. The symptoms are distinct enough that few people will have any problem recognizing what’s happening to you.


Then teach them to help us treat the symptoms. Usually this is as simple as having us chew and swallow a handful of glucose tabs in quick succession. Each tab is 4 grams of dextrose (and other sugars) that are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream and should alleviate the hypoglycemic symptoms within a few minutes.


(I live alone and sometimes will compensate for a late night hypoglycemic episode by chewing up to 10 tabs at a time—40 grams of sugar. I’m willing to pay the piper later to compensate for my voluntary sugar overload because my main concern is squelching the hypo as much and as fast as I can to feel safe.)


One problem is that you might forget to carry glucose tabs with you or to always be somewhere where they’re close by. That’s where friends and family come in. Glucose tabs are fairly cheap and easy to find at most pharmacies. You can buy several 10-count plastic tubes of glucose tabs to distribute among your family and best friends. Have each of them carry at least one tube around with them in a purse or pocket. If all goes well, they’ll never have to pull it out.


(As an aside, many type 1s hold periodic drills where their partners, or spouses, or housemates practice what to do during a hypoglycemia emergency, including knowing how to inject glucagon and who to call for professional help.)


2. Invite the people close to you to be (gently and persistently) nosey and pushy about how you’re managing your diabetes. Are you taking prescribed medications? Are your prescriptions up to date? Are you tracking changes in your condition? Are you keeping your medical appointments? How are you feeling? Any worries or concerns? Keep in mind that we would do the same for a friend or loved one who needs looking after.


3. Invite people close to you to be physically involved in helping you live with your disease. That can be accompanying  you to a medical appointment or driving you to appointments, picking up your medications at the pharmacy, learning how to inject insulin or glucagon in an emergency situation, cooking and offering foods that are safe for people with diabetes to eat. It doesn’t hurt for them to learn the “vocabulary of diabetes”—the various phrases and terms that accompany our disease.


4. Write down the foods that are the best for your condition. If you’re in a family, the list should be prominent on the refrigerator or whiteboard, or whatever medium your family uses to communicate food needs and preferences. (Don’t be shy about volunteering to do the grocery shopping. That gives you great control over what winds up in the shopping cart.)


5. If you are in a diabetes support group, ask a friend or relative to accompany you to one of its sessions. (First make sure that would be OK with your group and the group’s moderator.) This lets people hear and understand directly the concerns among people who have type 2. You might even suggest holding a “friends/loved ones night” to gather your group’s support people in one place to learn about further ways to be of help to you and your fellow type 2s.


6. Don’t be shy about bringing up diabetes in a conversation. Sometimes a friend or loved one will come across an interesting article or story about diabetes and want to alert you about it. This is something to encourage. Not only may you learn something new, it gives the people who love you the satisfaction of knowing that they’ve helped you and that it’s worthwhile for them to stay alert for news about diabetes. The more we let people in, the more we find we can share some of the burdens of diabetes.

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