Helping a loved one with diabetes

When a loved one has been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes how can you help ease them into a healthier routine?

A diagnosis of type 2 diabetes almost always requires a person to make lifestyle changes to manage their condition. Some people struggle with this more than others. If someone you love has been diagnosed  there are positive ways that you can help support them.
Type 2 diabetes is a progressive condition in which the body becomes resistant to the normal effects of insulin and/or gradually loses the capacity to produce enough insulin in the pancreas. This reduces the body's ability to regulate blood glucose levels. While it is not known what causes the condition, it is strongly associated with some modifiable lifestyle risk factors. 

Why lifestyle changes are important

Type 2 diabetes can often be managed at first with a combination of regular physical activity, healthy eating and losing excess weight. Both aerobic exercise and resistance training has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity so a combination of both is generally ideal as part of a regular routine.
A healthy eating plan that promotes healthy weight is very important. Generally a balanced diet according to the national nutrition guidelines is appropriate, however, there is good evidence to suggest that a low-glycaemic index (low-GI) diet with appropriate amounts of carbohydrate spread evenly throughout the day can help improve blood glucose management and keep them stable within a target range.
As type 2 diabetes is a progressive condition, most people will need oral medications and/or insulin injections as well as lifestyle changes over time.  
people preparing food in kitchen

Ways that you can help

Bupa’s National Medical Director and GP Dr Tim Ross  suggests that the best approach is to find out how your loved one feels about their diagnosis – do they feel fear, apathy, interest, or a jumble of emotions? 
“Ask them what assistance they may appreciate, what they think will be of most help to them, and what they think they can do to manage their condition,” he says.
He also suggests employing the following strategies:
  • Target age and time of life: for example, it may help some people to think about the importance of seeing their children or grandchildren grow up or achieve other long-term life goals. 
  • Walk the walk with them: eat healthily with them and exercise together. Walk short distances instead of driving and avoid having unhealthy snacks in the house.
  • Cheer them on: be sure to encourage them when they are making positive changes and give them plenty of positive feedback.
  • Be positive: don’t make comparisons between what you or other people are doing and what they are doing (or not). Don’t nag, harass or complain. Positive reinforcement generally works far better than negative feedback when it comes to encouraging people to make behavioural changes.
  • Set goals together: if you are overweight or less fit than you’d like to be yourself, view it as an opportunity for you both to work together to make changes.
  • Find a shared reward: Go see a movie, go to a show, save up for a special shopping purchase (one that is not food) for achieving a target weight or other goals such as regularity of exercise or net exercise accomplished.  
  • Find healthier alternatives to snack on: a dietitian can help with this; a handful of unsalted nuts or a piece of fruit make ideal snacks.
  • Help minimise temptation: try to avoid eating unhealthier foods, or unhealthy quantities of foods, in front of your loved one (it’s good for your own health too!).
 With the right attitude developing type 2 diabetes can be an opportunity to make positive lifestyle changes that can help keep both you and your loved one live healthier lives far into the future.

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