Caring for an elderly parent, relative or close family friend often involves managing one or more age-related health problems, including diabetes.

At first, learning all you need to know about diabetes may seem daunting, perhaps even a little frightening. Depending on your parent’s physical and cognitive abilities, you may be required to help with medications, test and track blood glucose (sugar) levels, and ensure they are eating well. Fortunately, many services are available to help you and your parent learn more about diabetes and what you can do to help manage the condition.

Learn as much as you can about diabetes. The more you and your parent learn, the better equipped you both will be to make the lifestyle adjustments that come with good diabetes management. Contact Diabetes Canada to find a Diabetes Education Centre in your area.

Making the adjustment

Here are some suggestions to help you and your parent adjust to life with diabetes:

  • Take your parent to see his or her diabetes health-care professional on a regular basis to discuss your parent’s diabetes management and its impact on overall health, and to ensure they receive important regular tests for blood pressure, cholesterol, eye health, etc.
  • Enquire about other professionals who can become part of your parent’s diabetes team – such as pharmacists, nurse educators, dietitians and social workers. They offer invaluable expertise about caring for seniors with diabetes. A pharmacist can be particularly helpful if your parent requires multiple medications for a number of health conditions.
  • Learn the signs of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and how to treat it. Some symptoms of low blood sugar, such as confusion and disorientation, can be mistaken for other age-related conditions, such as dementia. If your parent displays such signs, test his or her blood sugar level immediately. When in doubt, it is best to err on the side of caution and treat for low blood sugar.
  • Ensure that your parent is eating well. Following a healthy meal plan is a crucial component of good diabetes management, but impaired physical or cognitive abilities often prevents seniors from eating when and what they should. It may help to have healthy pre-prepared meals and snacks readily available for your parent or to arrange for a meal delivery service.
  • Encourage regular physical activity. Both aerobic and resistance training have been shown to improve blood sugar management and overall health. Many seniors’ centres offer age-appropriate activities.
  • Offer to check your parent’s feet regularly. Proper foot care including daily inspections for cracks, cuts or ingrown nails, is very important for people with diabetes, but many seniors find these tasks difficult. Your parent may require assistance.
  • Work as a team. While it may be tempting to try to take over your parent’s diabetes care, it is important to not treat your parent like a child or get into a power struggle over treatment. Encourage your parent to take ownership of his or her health, while you offer support as needed.

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