In-Home Care Helps Seniors Manage Diabetes

November Is American Diabetes Month

Home caregiver and senior woman

Today, almost 30 million people in America are living with diabetes. Diabetes is actually a group of diseases; the most common by far is type 2 diabetes, in which the body has trouble using insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar. The older we get, the more likely we are to develop type 2 diabetes.

Doctors know that managing diabetes in older adults can be a tricky balancing act. If a senior's blood sugar is too high, they can suffer damage to their heart, kidneys, nerves, eyes, bones and feet. Diabetes can lead to blindness, amputations and even death. Diabetes raises the risk of stroke, and causes problems with thinking and memory by decreasing the flow of blood in the brain.

On the other hand, if a senior is taking too much medication, this can lead to hypoglycemia — blood sugar that is too low, which can cause dizziness, loss of consciousness, confusion, personality changes and falls. So, the doctor will carefully monitor a senior's blood sugar and adjust the dosage of medications accordingly.

Meanwhile, the patient must constantly remember to check their blood sugar, take their medications, watch their diet … it can all seem overwhelming. And sometimes, despite following the doctor's orders, their blood sugar numbers are still too high. The stress and anxiety can lead to "diabetes distress" — defined by the American Diabetes Association as "a reaction to living with a stressful, complex disease that is often difficult to manage."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "One of the best ways to predict how well someone will manage diabetes is how much support they get from family and friends." So chances are, the person with diabetes might not be the only one experiencing stress! Family caregivers help their loved ones take medications, inject insulin, eat properly and get enough exercise. Said Gail Hunt of the Family Caregiver Alliance, "Caregivers are involved with a wide range of diabetes-related responsibilities, and as a result, many report some social and personal health sacrifices due to their caregiving."

The role of in-home care

If your senior loved one is struggling to manage diabetes, perhaps along with other health conditions or disabilities, professional in-home care can be of great help. Skilled nursing services can be provided in the home. At a lower cost, nonmedical in-home caregivers can provide support in several important ways:

Supervision as your loved one follows the healthcare provider's recommendations. The caregiver can remind your loved one to take medications. Once your loved one measures their blood sugar, the caregiver can remind your loved one to record the blood sugar levels to keep track of them. The caregiver may also be able to assist with checking your loved one's blood pressure if advised, and can check their feet for small injuries. Professional caregivers know it's important to build some relaxed time into your loved one's schedule for performing these tasks — a great stress-buster that works better with a professional caregiver than with a family member who's anxiously checking their watch.

Transportation to medical appointments and the pharmacy. Studies show that seniors who are frequently monitored by the doctor have the greatest success at managing diabetes. Your loved one also might have regular appointments with the eye doctor, dentist and other recommended specialists. But accompanying their loved one to all these appointments can be stressful for family caregivers, especially those with jobs or other family responsibilities. A professional caregiver can help your loved one keep track of appointments and provide transportation.

Personal care assistance. The caregiver can help with dressing and grooming and can help your loved one to the toilet if needed. People with diabetes are at higher risk of infection, so bathing assistance is especially important. The caregiver also can ensure that water is at a safe temperature, to avoid burns. Nerve damage caused by diabetes decreases sensation in the feet, so the feet should be kept clean and dry, and the caregiver will note any injuries or red spots. People with diabetes also are at higher risk of gum disease and other oral health problems; the caregiver can assist with oral hygiene.

Meal planning and preparation. Medication is far from the only tool for managing diabetes. Eating properly makes all the difference, and your loved one's doctor or dietitian will have recommended a healthy eating plan. Yet many seniors are used to subsisting on processed, packaged foods that are high in all the wrong ingredients — saturated fats, trans fats, sugar and salt. A professional caregiver can take your loved one to the grocery store, and prepare appetizing meals and snacks with lots of fiber, whole grains, fruits and healthy proteins.

Light housekeeping services. For seniors with diabetes and other health problems, keeping the home clean and tidy can be challenging. Having a clean house is great for self-esteem and comfort — and for safety. The caregiver can remove clutter and other hazards that could cause a fall, which is a high risk if your loved one has dizziness or balance problems due to hypoglycemia, side effects of medications, or diabetes-related vision loss or reduced sensation in the feet.

Supervision and encouragement for exercise. Physical activity is another important lifestyle factor when it comes to managing diabetes. Your loved one should ask for an exercise "prescription" from the doctor. The caregiver can be the cheerleader, going along for walks, taking your loved one to an exercise class, playing a home workout video, or helping your loved one with gardening. Every little bit helps! And it's always more fun to exercise with someone else.

Companionship. Diabetes can cause a cycle of loneliness and depression. People suffering from diabetes distress sometimes just don't feel like being with other people — which then leads to social isolation and increased depression. The human presence of a professional caregiver can help break this cycle. The caregiver also can provide transportation to support groups and other social opportunities. Family relationships are enhanced when a professional caregiver takes over some of the diabetes management tasks. Said one senior client, "Now when my daughters come over, we can talk about the grandkids, and not whether I tested my blood sugar this morning!"

In-home care also promotes the health of family caregivers, allowing them more time for their own healthcare, exercise routines, and stress-busting activities they enjoy.

The information in this article is not intended to replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Talk to your doctor if you have questions about managing your diabetes, and report problems right away.

November Is American Diabetes Month

CDC Diabetes Month information

Image: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Visit the CDC website to find more information and resources.   

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Right at Home, Inc. is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned providers of in home care services.