The American Diabetes Association celebrates American Diabetes Awareness every November and this year the theme is #This is Diabetes. The 2016 campaign seeks to showcase real-life stories of the 29 million Americans managing the day-to-day triumphs and challenges of diabetes to raise awareness and to create a sense of urgency about this public health concern. Their mission is to empower, educate, and support people living with diabetes in order to improve health outcomes and quality of life.
Did You Know These Facts About Diabetes?
- The diabetes rates are a growing public health crisis affecting our diverse communities. Type 2 diabetes accounts for about 90% to 95% of all diagnosed cases of diabetes and Type 2 diabetes is more common in African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans and Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders, and older adults.
- The health and economic costs for diabetes are enormous. People with diabetes can have health care costs that are 2.3 times higher than someone without diabetes.
- People with diabetes are more likely to have high blood pressure and high cholesterol, risk factors for heart attacks and strokes.
- People with diabetes are at major risk of vision loss and the risk increases the longer a person has diabetes. Between 40 and 45 percent of Americans diagnosed with diabetes have some stage of diabetic retinopathy, damage to the small blood vessels in the retina that can result in vision loss (NEI).
Living with diabetes is hard work and can be overwhelming. It requires careful attention to diet, exercise, blood sugars, and medications. Significant lifestyles changes often need to be made and sustained over time. Research suggests that only about 14% of patients with diabetes are able to maintain adequate control of their blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels through self-management.
People need education and guidance to live successfully with diabetes. And research shows they also need support from family, friends and the community. This kind of support improves their ability to apply knowledge and sustain behavior changes for better diabetes management. This means better blood sugar control and fewer complications of this devastating disease. The result of successful lifestyle modifications is a longer and healthier life for someone with diabetes.
What Ten Things Can Family and Friends Do to Help?
Supporting someone you know with diabetes can make a big difference and empower them to achieve their health goals. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) in their feature “Friends, Family and Diabetes” suggests you support your loved one in the following ways:
Learn about diabetes. Find out why and when blood sugar should be checked, how to recognize and handle highs and lows, what lifestyle changes are needed, and where to go for information and help. Chronically high blood sugar from diabetes is associated with damage to the tiny blood vessels in the retina, leading to diabetic retinopathy.
Know diabetes is individual. Each person who has diabetes is different, and their treatment plan needs to be customized to their specific needs. It may be very different from that of other people you know with diabetes. You should ask your friend or relative how you can help, and then listen to what they say. They may want reminders and assistance (or may not), and that can change over time.
Go to appointments if it’s OK with your relative or friend. You could learn more about how diabetes affects them and how you can be the most helpful.
Give them time in the daily schedule so they can manage their diabetes—check blood sugar, make healthy food, take a walk.
Avoid blame. People with diabetes are often overweight, but being overweight is just one of several factors that can lead to diabetes. And blood sugar levels can be hard to control even with a healthy diet and regular physical activity. Diabetes is complicated!
Step back. You may share the same toothpaste, but your family member may not want to share everything about managing diabetes with you. The same goes for a friend with diabetes.
Accept the ups and downs. Moods can change with blood sugar levels, from happy to sad to irritable. It might just be the diabetes talking, but ask your friend or relative to tell their health care team if they feel sad on most days—it could be depression.
Be encouraging. Tell them you know how hard they’re trying. Remind them of their successes. Point out how proud you are of their progress.
Walk the talk. Follow the same healthy food and fitness plan as your loved one; it’s good for your health, too. Lifestyle changes become habits more easily when you do them together.
Know the lows. Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) can be serious and needs to be treated immediately. Symptoms vary, so be sure to know your friend’s or relative’s specific signs, which could include:
- Nervousness or anxiety
- Sweating, chills, or clamminess
- Irritability or impatience
- Dizziness and difficulty concentrating
- Hunger or nausea
- Blurred vision
- Weakness or fatigue
- Anger, stubbornness, or sadness
If your family member or friend has hypoglycemia several times a week, suggest that he or she talk with his or her health care team to see if the treatment plan needs to be adjusted.
Offer to help them connect with other people who share their experience. Online resources such as the American Association of Diabetes Educators’ Diabetes Online Community or in-person diabetes support groups are good ways to get started. Sharing the burden of diabetes with your loved one is a great way to say you care about them. Support them on their journey to control their disease so the disease does not control them. You are an essential part of their team!
Resources on VisionAware
Sources of Information
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Diabetes Statistics Report: Estimates of Diabetes and Its Burden in the United States, 2014. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2014.