Helping My Family Cope with Diabetes and Understanding the Consequences

Editor’s note: As we come to the end of National Diabetes Awareness month, peer advisor Amy Bovaird shares her concerns about diabetes and its impact on her family.

Impact of Diabetes on My Life

Diabetes impacts my life because three people in my family have it and I see how it affects them. My mother and two brothers all have Type 2 diabetes. Mom, frail and slender at eighty-six, is very careful about her diet. She exercises as much as she safely can at her age, which means riding a stationary bicycle each day. Yet because diabetes progressively worsens over time, she has low blood sugar at times and nerve damage in her feet. In the middle of the night, she often experiences “pins and needles” and shooting pain in the bottom of her feet. It is especially difficult for her to get out of bed in the morning because of the pain. She also experiences dips in her blood sugar levels, most frequently in the middle of the night, and has to get out of bed to drink orange juice. I rush downstairs to quickly get it for her when I hear her wheezing.

Contrary to my mother, both brothers are overweight and they, too, have diabetes. For a time, my younger brother controlled his by diet. But he is no longer able to do that. Neither makes conscious and wise food choices. My younger brother is a busy small business owner and always on-the-go. He often grabs fast food on the road to accommodate his hectic schedule. He complains of being light-headed, having headaches or rapid crashing caused by a unexpected fluctuations in his blood sugar levels.

My older brother is the one I am most concerned about. He is addicted to sugar. Not only is he on insulin twice a day, he recently began to take a new medication once a week. He is drawn to food with high carbs and sweets in general. Because he also has Bipolar Disorder, the strong medications he takes for that makes him too tired to exercise.

My Concern about the High Risk of Vision Loss with Uncontrolled Diabetes

Image of proliferative retinopathy showing abnormal new blood vessels and scar tissue on the surface of the retina

Caption: Image of proliferative retinopathy

In coping with my own vision loss, I’m concerned about all three of my family members, especially since diabetes can also cause sudden and complete vision loss. While I look out for my entire family, it’s my older brother that I fear the most for since he has difficulty controlling what he eats. It’s a tough reality that I’ve learned about since meeting others who have experienced the consequences of poor food choices with diabetes. They now spend their days educating others of the dangers of “eating whatever you want.”

As chief cook in our home, I prepare balanced and healthy meals with plain fruit for dessert instead of sweets. My mother accepts this. My older brother seeks his sweet fix outside. It’s challenging to stay away from foods like pasta, with high carbohydrates because we are traditionally a meat and potato family. I prepare fish and lightly-seasoned chicken, green salads and vegetables. However, just as my brother seeks alternative sweets, he also chooses McDonalds over my meals for what he considers as more palatable food.

I continue to educate myself on nutrition and diabetes to help my family members to cope with their challenges. I exercise and model what I feel is a healthy lifestyle. I’m very aware of my mother’s needs and encourage her and my brothers as much as I can.

If you are in a similar situation, education, exercise and healthy, balanced meals and snacks are key to preventing Type 2 diabetes. Make sure that you continue to motivate others with your healthy habits and that you don’t succumb to their poorer habits.

Suggested Reading

Be sure to read Maureen Duffy’s post about a survey that shows that less than one-half of US adults with diabetes understand their risk for vision loss.

Peer Advisor Audrey Demmitt, R.N., also has a post well worth reading about lowering your risk of diabetic retinopathy.

Be empowered by this personal story by an ophthalmologist about taking charge of diabetes.