Being diagnosed with diabetes can be overwhelming. As a caregiver, you want
to help your loved ones enjoy the fullest and healthiest life possible.
The first step to becoming a caregiver to your loved one is to learn as much as you can about diabetes and what lifestyle changes are needed. Going through the change alone can be daunting, so why not make the changes together as a team or family.
Exercise or shop for diabetes-friendly groceries together, then cook and have meals together. Many lifestyle changes that improve the health of someone with diabetes can also benefit everyone.
Where possible, accompany your loved ones to their medical appointments. Listen, share, and ask questions to help your loved ones get the best care possible from the healthcare team.
Finally, in the process of being a good caregiver, don’t forget to take care of yourself too.
RECOGNISE SIGNS AND SYMPTOMSs
Know what signs and symptoms to look out in a crisis so you can help the person
seek immediate attention. Some crises to look out for are:
Diabetes occurs when the body fails to produce enough insulin – the hormone responsible
for reducing blood glucose levels. Although eating sweet food does not directly cause
diabetes, a diet high in sugar and fat can lead to obesity, which causes the body
to be less sensitive to insulin, thus increasing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Hypoglycemia (low blood glucose)
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
Shakiness, sweating, weakness, dizziness, irritability, hunger, headache, mood swings, staggering gait
WHAT TO DO:
Check blood glucose level to confirm; give a glass of fruit juice or 3 to 4
teaspoons sugar in water. Keep some sweets like a bar of chocolate to take
for when symptoms occur
- Repeat the above measures in 10 to 15 minutes if blood glucose level is still below 4.0 mmol/l
- Seek immediate medical attention if symptoms persist or if the patient loses consciousness
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
Thirst, fatigue, frequent urination, drowsiness, blurred vision
WHAT TO DO:
- Check blood glucose
- Check urine for ketones if blood glucose is over 240 mg/dl (> 13 mmol/l)
- Continue to drink plenty of water
- Seek medical attention if symptoms persist
Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) or diabetic coma is a life-threatening condition
that develops when there is too little insulin in the body. This is more common
in persons with type 1 diabetes. Without insulin, the body cannot use glucose
(sugar) and breaks down fat and protein for energy instead. In the process,
it produces a poisonous substance known as ketones. If left untreated, diabetic
ketoacidosis can be fatal.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
Abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, extreme drowsiness, rapid breathing,
flushed skin, sweet fruity odour to breath
WHAT TO DO:
- Check that blood glucose levels are above 15mmol/l
- Check urine for ketones. Urine dipstick tests for ketones are available for home use
- Seek immediate medical attention
CHECK THEIR BLOOD GLUCOSE LEVEL
Help the person monitor their blood glucose levels. This requires conducting
a blood glucose test at home using a glucometer. Ask the doctor or nurse to
help you buy a glucometer.
Tips on taking a blood sample by finger prick:
- Wash your hands thoroughly before doing the test
Ensure the person's hand is clean. You can rinse the hands in lukewarm water,
then dry them to improve circulation for a better sample
- Do gentle massage of the hands before pricking the finger to improve circulation
- When pricking the finger, use the side of the fingertip rather than the front top so it's less painful
- Apply gentle pressure on the finger pad with the sides pushed out to get a better sample
Your doctor will advise how often the blood test is required.
MANAGE THEIR DIET
Get help from a dietician on how to plan meals and adjust the diet. Make
positive affirmations each time the person makes a healthy food choice and
encourage them to maintain a healthy and well-balanced diet. Here are some tips:
- Use My Healthy Plate as a guide for planning meals
- Choose a variety of foods from the four food groups
- Keep meals regular
- Be mindful of portion sizes when serving food
ENCOURAGE THEM TO BE PHYSICALLY ACTIVE
Encourage the person to move around more and sit less. Let them know that
they do not have to exercise long and hard to reap health benefits. Short
bouts of activity break up prolonged seating and improves fat metabolism.
During physical activity, be on the lookout for signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia
(low blood glucose). Have some sweets or fruits (e.g. apple) on standby, in
case they feel dizzy or weak.
GIVE THEM THEIR MEDICATION
Most persons with diabetes may also have other medical condition(s) such as
high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol level, and may be on medication
for such problems. Know what medication(s) the person under your care is taking;
understand how it works and its potential side effects. Inform the doctor
immediately if the person experiences any reaction to the medication(s).
As a caregiver, ensure that medication is taken or given (in the case of
insulin injections) on time and regularly as prescribed by the doctor. Some
people with diabetes are afraid of insulin injections, which causes non-compliance
in their treatment. Helping them overcome their fear is an important role
you can take on.
CARE FOR THEIR FEET
Foot care is very important in persons with diabetes. The person with diabetes
may develop foot problems arising from either nerve damage, also called neuropathy,
or poor circulation. When sensory nerves of the foot are damaged, the ability
to feel sensations, such as pain, is lost and one may be unaware of a wound
or breakdown of skin that can lead to infection. Diabetic foot ulcers are
serious because they do not heal well and cause gangrene that can lead to amputation.
It is important to keep the blood glucose level under control to minimise the risk
of foot problems. As a caregiver, ensure that you assist in the care of the feet every day:
- Wash and inspect feet daily and seek medical care if you spot a problem
- Look for changes in skin colour or feeling
- Gently rub skin lotion over the feet, but not in between the toes
- Trim toenails straight across and file the edges
- Protect feet from extreme temperatures
- Use proper and comfortable foot wear at all times
Additionally, visit the doctor at least once a year for foot examination,
and more often if foot problems arise.