In 2015, 30.3 million people in the US had diabetes—9.4% of the total population. In people aged 65 and above, one in every four had diabetes. The impact of diabetes on American health is huge, as it ranks seventh of the leading causes of death in the US.
Diabetes is a chronic or long-term disease wherein the body does not produce insulin or is unable to use it properly to take blood sugar into cells to make energy. Blood sugar levels shoot up and cells starve. Once diagnosed, the patient is likely to have the condition for life.
If you work as a caregiver, chances are you’ll care for a patient with diabetes at least once in your career. Caregivers can make a big impact on a patient's life because, with their help in proper management, the disease can be controlled. On the other hand, if a patient does not follow the doctor's recommendations and treatment, they suffer devastating complications in their overall function and quality of life.
So, the caregiver’s roles of companion and bedside care worker are very crucial to helping patients with diabetes. Below are some important things to keep in mind, with invaluable tips to make sure you do:
Medications are an essential part of the treatment plan for diabetes. The timing and dosage must be strictly followed to properly control the patient’s blood sugar levels and prevent severe complications.
Tip #1: Caregivers do not administer medications, but that doesn’t mean they can’t help. When it’s time for their meds, remind the patient a few minutes before schedule.
Patients may sometimes be busy with other things. If they can’t be bothered, bring their meds to them. If you think a patient is skipping or discontinuing their medications without the doctor’s knowledge, report it to the supervisor or nurse at once.
Contrary to the belief that diabetic patients should have a very restricted diet, patients can eat a wide variety of nutritious foods as long as they are in the right amount and eaten at the right time. Just like the recommendation for any healthy person, sugary, fatty, and processed foods should be avoided—not only because they cause a spike in blood sugar, but also because they are usually lacking in nutrients.
Tip #2: If you are doing meal preparation, include a generous amount of fruit and vegetables in the patient’s diet. Add complex carbohydrate sources such as root crops, oatmeal, and whole grains. Give them healthy protein sources, too, such as legumes, nuts, and fish.
When a person exercises, they burn calories and use up blood sugar. Strenuous exercise over longer periods is the riskiest for patients with diabetes. Actively moving about after medicating can drastically lower blood sugar, the signs and symptoms of which include shakiness, dizziness, sweating, hunger, and irritability or moodiness.
Tip #3: Always follow the care plan and the physician’s advice regarding the types of activities and length of time for exercises. A snack is usually required before exercise and rest periods are spaced out during the activity.
People with poorly controlled diabetes will experience nerve problems to the extent that they won’t be able to feel pain, pressure, warmth, or cold in their lower extremities. Because of poor sensation, the feet become prone to injury.
Since there is poor wound healing and an increased risk of infection with diabetes, it makes matters worse. Diabetic wounds can already become severely infected without the patient noticing, and the consequence of this can be amputation, or surgical removal of the leg, or widespread blood infection.
Tip #4: Regularly inspect the patient’s feet for any broken skin. The ideal time to do this is while assisting patients with changing their clothes. If you see a wound, report it to the supervisor or nurse immediately.
You can prevent injury to the patient’s feet by discouraging them from walking barefoot and helping them wear comfortable shoes. Also, pat the feet dry after washing and apply lotion over the feet but not in between the toes. Use a file when trimming toenails and smooth the edges.
People with diabetes can live a nearly normal life as long as they keep their blood sugar controlled with medication, a proper diet, exercise, and rest. Caregivers can have a lasting impact on these patients by educating themselves about the disease and working tirelessly with their patient and the healthcare team in making sure they follow all recommendations.
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