Diabetes is a Family Affair


My doctor keeps an eye on my blood sugar readings. Why? Because both of my parents had diabetes and I have two siblings with type 2 diabetes who require insulin injections. I know I'm at risk. I know I need to take extra care—staying active and watching what I eat—to avoid falling into the same boat. Fortunately, I'm able to consult with my primary care provider. My doctor encourages me to be an active partner in my health care.

Did you know that nearly 26 million Americans have diabetes, a serious disease in which blood glucose (blood sugar) levels are above normal? Most people with diabetes have type 2, which used to be called adult-onset diabetes.  At one time, type 2 diabetes was more common in people over age 45. Now more young people—even children—have the disease because many are overweight or obese.

Diabetes affects everyone in some way. It not only affects the individual with the disease, it also affects those who live with him or her and those who are related. This year's theme for National Diabetes Month (November) is "Diabetes is a Family Affair."

Aging and Disability Services works with older adults and adults with disabilities. Other divisions of the Seattle Human Services Department work with families, children, and youth. Our staff understands how health issues affect the entire family and household.

Most likely, you, a loved one, or someone you know has diabetes and it is important to know the risk factors:

  • You are 45 years of age or older.
  • You are overweight.
  • Your parent, brother, or sister has diabetes.
  • Your family background is African American, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian, Asian American, or Pacific Islander.
  • You had diabetes that occurred during pregnancy (gestational diabetes).
  • You have been told that you have elevated blood glucose levels.
  • Your blood pressure is 140/90 or higher.
  • Your cholesterol levels are not normal. HDL ("good cholesterol") is less than 35 and triglyceride level is higher than 250.
  • You are fairly inactive or you engage in physical activity less than three times per week.

Family health history is important. Know your diabetes risk factors, and what you can do to prevent or control type 2 diabetes.

There are four key steps to controlling diabetes:

  1. Learn the facts about diabetes.
  2. Know the diabetes ABCs: A1C test, Blood Pressure readings, and Cholesterol.
  3. Manage diabetes.
  4. Get routine care to avoid problems.

Talk with your health care team about how you can manage your health conditions to lower your chances of a heart attack, stroke, or other diabetes problems.

If you or a loved one has diabetes, recognize the challenges of staying healthy and preventing complications. With support from family and friends, you or your loved ones can control your diabetes and live a long, active life.

Mary Patricia O'Leary, RN, BSN is a planner at Aging and Disability Services, the Area Agency on Aging for King County. She has been instrumental in developing chronic care management programs, and motivating clients to set and meet health and fitness goals.