Helping a Loved One With Diabetes

Medically Reviewed by Carmelita Swiner, MD on April 30, 2023
3 min read

Diabetes can be a demanding disease to manage. People who have the condition must constantly watch what they eat, check their blood sugar levels regularly, and take medication to keep those levels steady. If you’re close to someone who has diabetes, there are ways you can help.

Learn about the disease. There are lots of myths and wrong ideas about diabetes. For example, it’s not true that a major sweet tooth can lead to the condition, or that it’s unsafe for people who have it to exercise.

Learn how diabetes works, how to prevent emergencies or complications, and other information so you can be useful. You’ll also want to learn the symptoms of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and high blood sugar (hyperglycemia), and what to do about them. Maybe ask your loved one if you can tag along to a doctor’s appointment.

Make it a team effort. A diabetes diagnosis is a chance for the whole household to start some healthy habits. Get everyone to get onboard with nutritious meals, quitting smoking, and staying active.

Know when to step back. Remember that the person who has diabetes is responsible for managing it, not you. Don’t second-guess the care plan or try to police meals or snacks. Living with diabetes is hard work, and encouragement and support are better than unwanted advice or, worse, scolding.

Help ease stress. Too much stress can raise blood sugar levels and make it harder to control diabetes. But managing the condition can be stressful. Encourage your loved one to talk about feelings and frustrations. Try things together like meditating, walking, gardening, or watching a funny movie.

Expect mood swings. Swings in blood sugar can make someone jittery, confused, anxious, or irritable. Better blood sugar control can help avoid these ups and downs. Offer emotional support, and encourage your loved one to join a support group or talk about professional counseling if you think that might help.

Talk openly about any bedroom issues. Diabetes can affect many parts of the body, including sexual organs. Women with diabetes are more likely to have vaginal and urinary tract infections, while problems like nerve damage can cause vaginal dryness and make sex uncomfortable or even painful. Men who have diabetes are more likely to have erectile dysfunction. Sometimes, having diabetes can affect self-esteem, which can make someone less interested in sex.

Be honest about any problems, and encourage your partner to talk with a doctor about any issues.

If you're the main caregiver for someone with diabetes, you can do even more:

  • Remind them to check their blood sugar levels on time.
  • Help them make and get to doctor appointments.
  • Offer to keep a record of their symptoms or other concerns, and help them talk about it with their doctor.
  • Together, plan how to handle a diabetes-related emergency or complications.
  • Support them in making good food choices, and make healthy food together.
  • Go with them to a diabetes support group.

Help manage medications

People with diabetes need to take their medicines as prescribed. Sometimes, they may need a little help with that.

Make sure the person is able to give themselves the medication. Can they open the cap on the pill bottle or give themselves insulin? Do they keep all their diabetes supplies in a convenient place?

If your loved one takes pills, capsules, or tablets, use a pill calendar. This plastic container has days of the week listed and is divided into parts of the day. You can get one at most larger pharmacies. Fill the pill calendar once a week or once a month, as needed. Check it regularly to see if they missed any doses.

It could be that your friend or relative doesn’t see well and can’t read the prescription bottle. Make an appointment with an eye doctor (an ophthalmologist) for a vision checkup.

Get support

Take care of yourself, too. If caregiving starts to become stressful, it helps to talk with someone you trust, whether it’s a friend, relative, or counselor. You may also want to join a support group.

To find one, ask your loved one’s doctor, or check with a local hospital or the American Diabetes Association.