An increasing number of people are coping with elderly parents who have been diagnosed with diabetes. As your parent gets accustomed to the diagnosis and related lifestyle changes, you may both go through a traumatic period. Discover how to cope when you have elderly parents with diabetes.
- The level of your involvement depends on your parent’s physical health. If your parent is active, able to shop and cook and participates in rewarding activities, you might just need to provide encouragement and support. If your parent is frail or forgetful, you may need to take on more responsibilities. Remember your parent might be in denial about his or her limitations and you may get some resistance. Ask how you can help and offer the choice to give your parent a major role in the decision making process.
- Learn more about diabetes. Try to attend medical appointments with your parent and go with him or her to self-management classes. Search for information from reputable websites and publications. Keep in mind each person is different, which means each patient’s diabetes self-management plan will differ.
- Keep boundaries in mind as you help your parents cope with diabetes. If you offer advice and get an argument, step back to consider your own actions and feelings. Avoid imposing your own ideas about proper diet and exercise on your parent. Try to simply ask how you can help and recognize your parent might feel resentful for needing assistance. Minimize your own emotional responses and encourage your parent to reach out and ask for help when needed. This helps to reduce your own stress level.
- Keep it simple rather than trying to overwhelm your parent with information about diabetes. Remember you can only offer suggestions and pick your battles. Break the information you share into small segments. Start with the basics such as portion control and regular mealtimes. Once your parent masters these concepts, slowly move onto helping him or her to make additional lifestyle changes.
- Encourage your parent to quit negative behaviors such as smoking or excessive alcohol consumption. Talk to your parent’s health care team about ways to quit without causing your parent additional stress.
- Talk to your parent about checking his or her feet daily for cuts, sores or other irregularities. People with diabetes must take special care of their feet to avoid infections and other serious issues. Your parent should not soak his or her feet or expose them to extreme temperatures. They should be washed in warm water daily and dried completely. Moisturizer is applied to the surfaces, excluding the areas between the toes. Make sure your parent has shoes that fit properly as well as water shoes for the beach and closed slippers to wear at home. Socks should breathe and have no seams. Your parent should not wear open shoes such as sandals or flip flops.
- Consider your parent’s abilities for self care. If your parent is struggling to perform certain tasks, such as using a blood glucose meter, ask your physician for recommendations that can help elderly people adapt. An example is a meter with a larger display or a talking meter if your parent has failing eyesight. Create a chart or fill a weekly pill box if your parent takes multiple medications to ensure proper dosage and timing.
- Be aware of the symptoms of hypoglycemia (low blood glucose) and hyperglycemia (high blood glucose). Symptoms of low blood sugar include confusion, feeling jittery or sweaty, feeling weak, being hungry and having a headache. The symptoms of high blood sugar include excessive thirst, tiredness, increased urination and blurred vision. Talk to your parent’s doctor to find out the best ways to handle high or low blood sugar. Always have simple sources of sugar like glucose tablets for your parent when blood sugars drop. Teach these methods to other caregivers.
- Be a positive role model. Eat nutritious meals and encourage your parent to join you. Offer to help your parent with grocery shopping and meal preparation. Exercise regularly and ask your parent to join you for walks or to go swimming. Consider helping your parent with gardening or joining a gym together. Your parent might benefit from special exercise programs for seniors, such as Silver Sneakers, with modified movements that fit into his or her capabilities.
- Take periodic inventory of diabetes supplies. Check the expiration dates on insulin and other medications. Make sure they have enough test strips on-hand for blood glucose monitoring. People with diabetes may develop kidney problems that make it difficult to get to the bathroom on time. Purchase incontinence supplies for your parent so he or she does not feel self-conscious about buying them.
- It can become stressful and difficult to be a caregiver. Look into support services such as a part-time nurse, sitter or ask for assistance from family and friends. If you parent feels isolated, look into a diabetes support group. If your parent cannot prepare his or her own meals, consider programs such as Meals on Wheels. Some insurance programs offer prepared meals to people with diabetes. Help is available when you reach out for it. Make sure to take time out for yourself, even if you just take a few hours to read a book or watch your favorite television programs.
It can be a challenge to cope with parents who have diabetes but they are depending on you to help out. Even if they seem resistant, offer to assist your parent and try to go to medical appointments with them. If you become a caregiver, remember to enlist assistance and take time for yourself.