Family and friends can be true life lines for people living with diabetes — they can lend a helping hand or shoulder to lean on at just the right moment. Studies show that people are able to manage their diabetes better when they have support from loved ones. It helps them to know they’re not going through it alone.
But it can be difficult for loved ones who want to offer diabetes support to know the difference between being helpful and being a nag. “There’s often a very fine line between pushing and pestering,” says Lawrence Perlmuter, PhD, a psychologist at the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in North Chicago.
Taking an interest in your loved one’s diabetes, whether type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes, is one thing; taking control is another. “If you’re constantly telling them what to do or repeatedly admonishing them, they’ll see it as a challenge to their control,” Perlmuter says. A take-charge attitude is rarely the kind of diabetes help your loved one is looking for.
Here are some dos and don’ts for providing diabetes support that works for everyone.
Don’ts When You’re Offering Diabetes Help
- Don’t play doctor. Unless diabetes is your field, you shouldn’t be giving medical advice, especially if it’s unsolicited. You may mean well, but many popular beliefs about diabetes are outdated, and you could be offering bad advice.
- Don’t bring up other people you know. Maybe your grandmother had type 2 diabetes and went blind. Maybe your friend’s mother-in-law had type 1 diabetes and ended up with kidney disease. Though you may know many people with diabetes, it doesn’t help someone trying to manage diabetes to hear other people’s horror stories.
- Don’t stare.
- Don’t be tactless. You might think a comment like “Look at it this way: It could be worse; you could have a fatal disease” offers comfort. But in reality, that’s not the kind of reassurance that will make anyone feel better, says William Polonsky, PhD, of the Behavioral Diabetes Institute in San Diego. It’s a thoughtless remark because it implies that diabetes isn’t serious. Both type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes have to be taken very seriously so that complications can be controlled and avoided.
- Don’t give orders. You’re not the diabetes police, Polonsky says, and you don’t want to make your loved one with diabetes feel like a criminal when he or she doesn’t obey. You can make suggestions or recommendations, but make sure they’re nothing more than that.
Dos for Diabetes Support
- Do acknowledge that managing diabetes is work. People with type 1 or type 2 diabetes must work at managing it around the clock, watching how much they eat, monitoring blood sugar, taking medications, getting regular exercise, and not getting too stressed. It’s not a simple job or one that ever ends. Tell your loved one that you understand that diabetes management is a full-time job – and that you recognize and appreciate how hard he or she works to deal with it.
- Do offer to be a diabetes buddy. A big part of managing diabetes is making healthy lifestyle choices. Offer to join your friend or relative for a walk or a game of tennis. Suggest going to a restaurant that offers a good selection of healthy and tasty meals. Remember that when you make these same healthy lifestyle choices, you benefit too.
- Do ask how you can help.
- Do show you care. Telling someone you care is good, but showing that concern is more powerful. Show you care with a hug or encouraging note, by really listening to the person’s concerns, by learning about diabetes, and by doing things together that you both enjoy.
Follow these dos and don’ts to offer your loved ones constructive support, and be sure to keep the communication lines open. Ask them directly about the ways you can offer the most help, and take that feedback to heart.