How to support a loved one with diabetes


How to support a loved one with diabetes


Because diabetes is often an ‘invisible’ chronic condition, you might not know how to support a friend or family member with diabetes. Bridget McNulty shares a few ideas.


Living with diabetes is exhausting. It’s 24/7, 365, you never get a break, or a holiday. But because it’s a chronic condition, it can seem as if those of us with diabetes have it all worked out. I assure you we do not! And even when we do, it’s always helpful to get support from friends, family and co-workers. Here are some of the most helpful ways to do that.


1.  Eat healthy, together


It’s really hard to constantly resist temptation - especially at home, and if the rest of the family is eating something that looks delicious. Try to keep food temptations away and have healthy options at home. It’s a real support to have everyone in the family eat the same way - and it’s healthier for everyone! Also be aware that sometimes people with diabetes will eat the wrong thing, and that’s okay. We are humans first, living with diabetes second.


2.  Get fit, together


If you can make time to exercise together - as a family, as a group of friends, or as co-workers, it’s more likely that you’ll all actually do the exercise. Accountability plays a big part in getting (and staying) fit, as people are less likely to bail on plans to exercise if it means disappointing someone else. If you can make exercising regularly a habit for you and your loved one with diabetes, it will have long-term positive impacts on your health, and theirs!


3.  Get as involved as they would like


It’s helpful to have a conversation with your loved one with diabetes about how involved they would like you to be in their care. Some people want reminders to see their medical team, help writing questions to ask so they get as much as possible out of the visit, and daily input on food choices and blood glucose readings. Others want to manage the condition on their own, but would like space to vent or discuss when things aren’t going the way they like. And still others want something in between. The only way to know how involved someone would like you to be, is to ask - and offer assistance.


“Diabetes is a chronic condition, which means it’s 24/7, 365. We never get a break. Support from family, friends and co-workers can mean the difference between feeling exhausted, and feeling capable.”


4.  Help with the daily admin of diabetes


One of the reasons diabetes is so exhausting is that it takes up so much time. There’s so much admin to deal with! The daily admin of testing blood glucose, remembering to take medication at the right time, eating the right kind of food (which means shopping for and cooking the right kind of food), scheduling appointments and remembering to order and pick up medication can get overwhelming. Especially because none of us is doing diabetes as our full-time job - it’s all on top of normal everyday life.

There might be a segment of this admin that you could help with, to ease some of the constant juggling act of diabetes and life.


5.  Educate yourself about diabetes


You will obviously never know what it feels like to have diabetes, but there’s still a lot that you can learn that will help your loved one with diabetes feel understood. It can be extra tiring having to educate everyone around you about your condition when all you want to do is live a normal life. Look for trusted resources to learn more about diabetes - Dr. Google is often not the best place to turn! Sweet Life Diabetes Community ( is the ‘diabetes Wikipedia of South Africa’ and offers expert answers to common questions about diabetes.


6.  Learn about hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and what to do about it


While nobody with diabetes wants to be treated as a ‘patient’, there are certain situations that can be dangerous, and it’s important to know what to do in an emergency. The most common is hypoglycemia - low blood sugar. Symptoms differ from person to person, but all require speedy action. If your loved one is having a hypo (blood glucose less than 3.9mmol/l), help them to get some sugar - half a cup of fruit juice or fizzy drink, 5 Super Cs, a teaspoon of sugar or honey. Know how to test their blood glucose if necessary, and how to inject glucagon in an emergency.


Symptoms of low blood sugar


Everyone feels slightly different when their blood sugar is low, but common symptoms include:


  • Feeling nervous
  • Sweating
  • Hunger
  • Trembling
  • Weakness
  • Heart beating very fast
  • Jumbling words
  • Feeling dizzy


7.  Support their mental health


Mental health is a big part of living with diabetes - and can be one of the hardest challenges. When you’re faced with a condition that can be affected by 42 different factors (everything from the weather to hormones to sleep, stress and food), it can be demotivating to do the same thing two days in a row and get different results.

Look out for any signs of depression, mental fatigue or diabetes burnout, and offer a safe space to talk it out without judgement - or help them to find a professional to talk to if it seems more serious.


8. Recognise that they are more than diabetes


While it can be really helpful to support your loved one in their condition, it’s also really important to recognise that they are more than their chronic condition. Try not to emphasise their diabetes more than they feel comfortable with - this will differ from person to person.


9.  Respect their decisions


This is sometimes very difficult, but you need to show your faith in them – diabetes is, at the end of the day, their condition. It can be difficult because sometimes those decisions are not the ‘right’ ones… But we can’t all be making the right decisions every single day of our lives, forever! We are not robots, and will sometimes make interesting choices… This holds true for people with diabetes, and people without!


10.  Be there, no matter what


Some days diabetes is loud and all-consuming, other days it’s not that big a deal. The last thing a person with diabetes wants is to feel like a burden to their loved ones, but it is so important to feel like we’re not doing this alone. Offer them a shoulder to lean on and help them to find solutions to their problems – but don’t try to solve the problems for them.


Join our community


If any of this resonates with you, please join our community - it’s not only for people with diabetes, but anyone interested in diabetes in South Africa. You can join South Africans with Diabetes on Facebook to feel part of this diabetes community, or get more info on how to live well with diabetes (including meal plans, food, exercise and weight loss tips) at

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