Diabetes is not a disease that you should try to conquer alone.
Studies have shown that those with diabetes who have support systems are more likely to have better control over their blood sugar and feel as though they can handle their disease.
But just because you are the one with diabetes does not mean that your support system and the people around you are not affected by the disease. Although you may feel like you are the one that has to experience the changes, those around you are also feeling
Although you may feel like you are the one that has to experience the changes, those around you are also feeling the emotional, physical, and financial adjustments that can weigh on them.
It is important to know about these issues so that you can understand and communicate with each other to ensure a smooth journey.
When it comes to diabetes, there are a lot of emotions that are at play for the person diagnosed: depression, anxiety or frustration. The life that they had has changed. For friends and family members, stress and anxiety are very common emotions.
It is also common for them to feel confused as to what their new role is in this reality.
Some common stressors for friends and family members of an individual with diabetes include:
Fear that their loved one will develop complications of diabetes
One study showed that 63% of family members had anxiety about how the complications of diabetes would affect and change their lives.
Common complications of diabetes that can really change a family’s life include:
- Eye problems leading to blindness
- Kidney disease that can lead to needing dialysis
- Nerve damage, which can effect how well you can get around and cause a lot of pain
- Non-healing wounds that can lead to an amputation
- High blood pressure which can cause a stroke
- Heart disease
Without proper blood sugar control, these complications are very likely to happen. Unfortunately, the disease is not reversible, so it is very important that you treat diabetes seriously and take care of yourself.
The stress of always wanting to help, but not knowing what to do
This is a common problem because loved ones just don’t know what to do to help without making their friend or family member upset. The stress can be even worse when they know that your blood sugar levels are not under control but they can’t do anything about it.
They fear that you may forget to take your insulin or your medication, or that your blood sugar may become too high. If your disease progresses and you develop some of the complications, your family member may even blame themselves for not doing enough to help you.
It can be difficult to find a good balance between helping and nagging. If you are trying to help your family member too much, it can cause unnecessary problems in your relationship. If you are the one with diabetes, talk to your family member on how you want to be helped.
If meal preparation would be ideal, then let them know they can take care of that. They may be afraid to talk to you and really not know where to start. Clinical observations have shown that when spouses or family members are involved with the management of diabetes, it creates a more open environment which makes its management easier.
Anxiety about trying to learn everything possible about diabetes
Diabetes is a complex disease, and it is impossible for someone to know everything about it. (And that is coming from someone that works in healthcare!) Your family may be trying to read every article and magazine that they can about low-carb recipes and diabetes management. This overload of information can cause a lot of anxiety. (Think about how you feel while you are trying to cram for a test. It is stressful!)
To ease your loved one’s mind, involve them in your doctor’s visits and let them hear what your physician is saying to you. This will make them feel like they are part of the journey with you.
Fear about what to do in an emergency
One of the most common emergencies with diabetes is hypoglycemia. This is a very dangerous condition that happens when your blood sugar drops too low.
Signs of low blood sugar include:
- Cold sweat
- Pale skin
- Heart palpitations
- Crying out while sleeping
- Loss of consciousness
Hypoglycemia becomes dangerous when someone becomes confused, loses consciousness, or has seizure activity. These things can happen while driving or doing other activities. If you are unable to receive some sort of glucose, then your blood sugar could continue to drop which can lead to death.
For your friend or family member, the thought of this can be very scary. To ease some of their worry, talk to them about what they can do in case of a hypoglycemic episode. If you are conscious and able to talk, bringing you some juice or a snack with carbohydrates is key to increasing the blood sugar.
If your sugar becomes too low though, you may not be able to swallow and putting something into your mouth could be dangerous. In these cases, Glucagon injections can be used. Teaching your family member on how to use it may save your life and ease their fears.
The stress of changing their lifestyle to be better for you
This is a common problem for friends. You may have had friends that you went out with once a week for bowling, nachos, and/or beers. After your diagnosis, you are no longer able to indulge in the junk food. It doesn’t mean that you can’t go out with your friends, it just means that you need to be aware of how much you are eating and drinking.
(Read this article about drinking alcohol with diabetes: https://www.thediabetescouncil.com/effects-of-alcohol-on-diabetes/) Talk to your friends about your lifestyle changes and let them know that you are okay with them still eating nachos and drinking. They may feel uncomfortable eating junk food while you are eating a healthier snack.
Your spouse may feel pressure to start cooking healthier meals for the entire family so that you don’t feel as though you are the only one that has to eat better. If you have kids, this may cause a lot of arguments, which can be stressful as well.
Talk to your spouse and tell them that you appreciate everything that they are doing. Be sure to let them know that you notice the changes they are making. Making healthy dietary decisions will be beneficial for all in the long run.
Understanding how CGM works can drastically decrease the anxiety levels in a couple where one wants to be part of the diabetes management of their partner.
We recommend you reading these similar articles:
- Experts Share Ways You Can Support Your Family Member With Diabetes
- Couples with Diabetes: What You Need To Know
- Make Insulin Injections More Comfortable for Children with these Products
- The Connection Between Diabetes, Heart Disease, And Stroke
- 40 Financial Experts Share Ways to Save Money on Diabetes Care
The physical problems that stress can cause
If your friend or family member is stressed out and worried about you, then it can cause health problems for them. Stress that goes untreated can lead to:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Stomach problems
- Sexual dysfunction
If your family member develops one of these side effects of stress, then they may not be able to care of you and you may end up having to take care for them. Decreasing the amount of stress and preventing these problems is key.
The physical frustrations because of a changed sex life
For your spouse or significant other, they can be affected by your diabetes because of the sexual changes that you may experience. People with diabetes tend to experience a decreased libido or the inability to be aroused, or be unable to have an orgasm. These problems can be caused because of circulation problems, medications, hormones imbalances, or nerve damage.
Talk to your doctor if you are having problems. There are treatments or medications that can be suggested. Also, talk to your significant other about the sexual problems that you are having. They may be frustrated and not understand that your diabetes is contributing to the lack of sexual appetite in your case.
The positive effects from lifestyle changes made together
There is also a positive stress that comes with your partner making lifestyle changes to match yours. If you begin to exercise and eat healthier together, you and your family member or friend may both start to experience beneficial physical changes such as losing weight or improving your overall health.
You both may decrease your risk of developing other diseases and feel better overall because of the endorphins that are released. Also, making these changes together can strengthen your relationship, which is always favorable.
Any type of chronic illness is expensive, but diabetes can be pretty draining on the pockets. It is a lifelong disease that will always have costs associated with it. The younger that you are diagnosed with the disease, the more expensive your lifetime medical spending will be.
Also, the longer you have the disease, the more complications that you may develop from it.
The following are an average that people spend on their diabetes in a lifetime, depending on when they are diagnosed:
- If you are diagnosed at age 40, you will spend around $211,000
- If you are diagnosed at age 50, you will spend around $135,000
- If you are diagnosed at age 60, you will spend around $70,000
- If you are diagnosed at age 65, you will spend around $44,000
On a yearly basis, people with diabetes spend about $13,700 on their medical care and almost $8,000 of that is just for diabetes related care. Those with diabetes spend around 2.3 times more on medical costs than people without diabetes. Medical costs for individuals with diabetes include:
- Medications to manage the complications of diabetes (18% of costs)
- Diabetic supplies and anti-diabetic agents to control blood sugar (12% of costs)
- Visits to your doctor (9% of costs)
- Hospital stays (43% of costs)
- Nursing home or rehabilitation facility costs (8% of costs)
So why can this be a stressor for your family?
Because the dreams that you and your spouse had of retiring at the beach and buying a convertible are now replaced with co-pays, insurance claims, and buying medications. People put money away during their entire working career so that someday they can enjoy life.
But if that money now has to be spent on something else, it can be stressful. On the other hand, if you don’t have a lot of money saved, then it can be stressful because you have to figure out how you are going to afford groceries, medications and other expenses.
A few years ago, I remember my grandparents calling me because they needed to borrow money. The cost of my grandmother’s insulin pen was so much that they couldn’t afford the medication for her heart condition or to repair the truck. They were constantly worried about having to pay for their expenses and not being able to make it one month or the other.
Don’t let this financial stress make you feel guilty. Your family wants to see you happy and healthy, which is why they stress about the cost of good healthcare for you. Just understand why they may be feeling frustrated so that you can try to work together for a great solution or ways to make it easier.
If your medication is costing too much, try to talk to your doctor or case manager about how to lower the cost. There may be generic options or other ways to save money.
If you are a family member of a person with diabetes, your support will positively contribute to their health outcomes. This includes stress management, higher self-efficacy, and influencing changes towards a positive lifestyle.
If you are interested in more information:
Tips on how to ensure a healthy family dynamics
In order to battle diabetes together as a family, you must have healthy dynamics. Otherwise, it can lead to a disaster. An article that I wrote called “Couples with Diabetes: What You Need to Know”, provides a lot of great information on how to function as a couple when one or both of you have diabetes.
Some quick tips from the article include:
- Educate yourself and your partner about diabetes as much as you can
- Work on communicating openly and honestly about what your needs are, whether it be related to diabetes or not
- Let them know how involved do you want them to be in your diabetes management
- Make lifestyle changes together
- Set small goals that you can reach together
- Work together as a team, not against each other
- Be patient with each other
- Be honest about what is working and what is not
- Encourage each other
- Address the things that are barriers, don’t just ignore them
If you still need more help after reading that article, seek help from a counselor that may be able to help you discover your issues and find ways to work through them.
Diabetes is a difficult and frustrating disease to face, and it is okay to have hurdles. Just remember that having a support system is key to success, so acknowledge the impact that your disease has on them so that you can make constructive progress.
TheDiabetesCouncil Article | Reviewed by Dr. Christine Traxler MD on September 11, 2018