Diabetes Is a Family Matter
November is the month when families traditionally get together for Thanksgiving visits — and it’s also National Family Caregiver Month. Sponsored by the American Diabetes Association, November also is American Diabetes Month. So that makes this month a great time to discuss your family’s risk of diabetes.
On the global level, the International Diabetes Foundation (IDF) and the World Health Organization hold World Diabetes Day on November 14 each year to call attention to the health and well-being of the 425 million people around the world who are living with the disease. (Fun fact: November 14 was the birthday of Sir Frederick Banting, one of the discoverers of insulin in 1922.)
The IDF chose this year’s theme, “Family and Diabetes: Diabetes Concerns Every Family,” to “raise awareness of the impact that diabetes has on the family and support network of those affected, and to promote the role of family in the management, care, prevention and education of diabetes.”
When it comes to diabetes, family matters in two very important ways:
Families often share the risk of diabetes.
Knowing your family history is important. This Thanksgiving, create a family health history. Who in your family is living with diabetes? How about grandparents and great-grandparents? This information can encourage family members to be tested for diabetes, because untreated, the disease can lead to serious health problems such as blindness, loss of limbs, kidney failure and heart disease.
The family risk of diabetes can be a matter of nature or nurture—a result of genetic factors, or of shared lifestyle factors that raise the risk. The National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP) suggests these questions to ask as you create your family health history:
- Does anyone in the family have diabetes? Did any family members who have passed away have the disease?
- Has anyone in the family been told they have prediabetes—blood sugar that’s higher than normal that might progress to diabetes?
- Has anyone in the family been told they need to lower their weight or increase their physical activity to prevent type 2 diabetes?
- Did any women in the family develop diabetes when they were pregnant (“gestational diabetes”)?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, other family members may be at an increased risk for developing diabetes. Talk to your doctor to learn more about managing your risk and preventing or delaying diabetes.
Talk about lifestyle factors, too. Is everyone in the family eating a healthy diet, getting the recommended amount of exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and getting tested regularly for the disease? Healthy living patterns are “passed down” in families as surely as genes are!
Families help their loved ones manage diabetes.
The IDF reminds us that diabetes has an impact on the whole family. The cost of insulin and treatment can affect a family’s budget. Family may be called upon to take their loved one to the doctor and remind them of their care routine. It can be emotionally challenging and affect family relationships.
Here are a few suggestions from the NDEP about how family caregivers can help an older loved one who is living with diabetes:
- Ask your loved one if they would like reminders about doctor visits, when to check blood sugar, and when to take medicine.
- Help your loved one write a list of questions for the health care team.
- Eat well. Help your loved one make meals that include foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Cut back on sweets by serving fresh fruit for dessert.
- Find things you can do together such as walking, dancing, or gardening. Walking together daily gives you time to talk and stay active.
The NDEP experts remind us, “We are each other’s best resources. Preventing diabetes and managing diabetes involves the entire family. Talk with your family about your health and your family’s diabetes risk. What we can do alone to fight diabetes and its consequences, we can do so much more effectively together.”
Source: IlluminAge AgeWise with information from the American Diabetes Association (www.diabetes.org), the International Diabetes Federation (www.idf.org), and the National Diabetes Education Program (www.niddk.nih.gov).