Diabetes Education and Support: Everyone Has a Role. What's Yours?

Diabetes affects everyone—not just those living with the disease, but family members, friends, the emergency response system, hospitals, behavioral health systems, employers, housing providers, and various other groups.

Whether you play a direct role (as someone living with diabetes or as a caregiver providing assistance to someone with diabetes) or an indirect role (like the emergency responder who answers a call because someone has fallen due to low blood sugar), everyone plays a part.

As a diabetic, I play an active role in my health and wellness. I take steps to manage my diabetes with diet and exercise. Also, I try to be a positive influence on my family, as I have siblings with diabetes.

It takes commitment to be an active manager in your own health and wellness. It's not easy, but avoiding complications related to uncontrolled blood sugar levels is well worth the effort. I am fortunate to have a team of health care professionals that care about me and encourage me along my diabetes self-management journey.

Another step I took to manage my diabetes was to enroll in a clinical research study called the Glycemia Reduction Approaches in Diabetes: a Comparative Effectiveness Study (GRADE) with the Diabetes Research Group at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System. I am so impressed by the care and support provided by the research staff, physicians and nurses. Not only does the study help me reach my A1c goals, but also my participation helps researchers figure out the best way to treat patients with type 2 diabetes.

So, what role do you play?

  • If you have diabetes, be an active manager in your own health and wellness. Let someone near you know that you have diabetes, in the event you have a low or high blood sugar and need medical attention.
  • Know that small steps make a difference. Set small, doable goals when you start on the pathway towards managing your diabetes. For instance, start with walking for five minutes, then gradually increase.
  • If you take medications, take them as prescribed.
  • Make an effort to eat healthier meals. Avoid fried foods, processed foods, and sugary beverages. Eat fresh vegetables and fruits instead of canned or processed. Schedule regular meal times and avoid skipping meals.
  • Share what you learn. Your first-hand experiences—personal successes as well as challenges—can help someone else who lives with the disease. You can be a positive influence on someone who is struggling to manage their own diabetes.
  • Consider joining a research study to increase knowledge about the best way to treat diabetes. You will learn more about yourself in the process.
  • Get involved in the community. I am a "master training candidate" for chronic disease self-management programs and diabetes self-management programs. These six-week 150-minute workshops provide great information and tools in managing chronic diseases, including diabetes. Consider taking a class and becoming a lay leader in your community.

If you are a friend or loved one of someone with diabetes, or just learning about diabetes, here are tips for improving your role:

  • Be supportive, respectful and listen. If you know someone has diabetes, ask them how they would like you to be involved. You may be surprised that they will be open about how you can help them be good self-managers.
  • Provide encouragement and celebrate successes with the person when they take steps towards their health and wellness.
  • Find out more about diabetes, including your own diabetes risk. Take steps towards your health and wellness.

Contributor Mary Pat O'Leary, RN, BSN thanks Dr. Kristina Utzschneider, Associate Professor of Medicine, University of Washington and Director of the Diabetes Care Program, VA Puget Sound Health Care System for her willingness to read and provide feedback to this article and to all the staff at the GRADE study.

Mary Pat—a planner at Aging and Disability Services—dedicates this article to her brother, Robert Francis O'Leary, who died of heart disease, complicated by diabetes in June 2015.