By the latest estimate of the American Diabetes Association, 25.8 million Americans have diabetes. If that’s the case, why do so many people with the disease feel so alone? For people with diabetes, it isn’t always easy to get support. Your friends and family may not really understand the disease, and your doctor — the person who knows your condition best — may not give you as much time as you would like to listen to your concerns. Moreover, while those around you may not need to watch what they eat, people with diabetes must constantly be vigilant.
No matter how isolated you feel, help may be closer than you think. With just a little encouragement, friends and family could become more supportive than you ever imagined. Preparing your questions for your doctor in advance can help you get the most out of each visit. You can also join a support group or find an online community of other people who share your condition. With so many people on your side, you’ll have an easier time controlling your diabetes and getting on with your life.
Here’s a look at some of the most common sources of support:
Family and friends
Patients who have a caring network of family and friends are much more likely to take control of their diabetes, according to experts. Caring, however, doesn’t always mean knowing what to do. If the people around you aren’t making your life easier, they may just need a little prodding in the right direction. You can start by educating them about the disease. They may have some misconceptions — for instance, people with diabetes can never eat sugar — that get in the way. Just as important, you have to tell them what kind of support you need. Do you want help planning meals and keeping track of blood sugar, or do you just want a little encouragement and understanding? Once they have some guidance, your loved ones could become your most valuable resource.
Your doctor and healthcare team
The members of your healthcare team have years of experience dealing with diabetes and those affected by it. Don’t hesitate to take advantage of their knowledge by asking questions, educating yourself, and engaging your doctor, diabetes educator, or specialists on your team in conversations about your illness. Let your doctor know that you want to be a full partner in managing this disease. Remember, his or her ultimate goal is to help you be healthy.
Your family and friends may care about you deeply, but unless they have diabetes themselves, they won’t know exactly what you’re going through. That’s why support groups are so valuable — and so popular. A support group, especially one in which members share their concerns and successes, can help you get a new perspective on diabetes. You can hear how other people manage the disease and you can share a few tips of your own. If nothing else, you’re bound to feel less alone. You may find inspiration — perhaps even an exercise buddy — among your companions.
If you’d like to give a support group a try, ask your doctor, your diabetes educator, a local hospital, or your local chapter of the American Diabetes Association to help you find a group. Keep in mind that there are two basic types of support group: those that are led by professionals and “self-help” groups that are run by patients. As reported in the late Hippocrates magazine, professionally led support groups are a good choice for patients with diabetes. A nurse, certified diabetes educator, nutritionist, or other expert can help guide the group through the complexities of the disease and answer the questions that are bound to arise.
One support group sponsored by the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston sets an excellent example. The professionally led group addresses many crucial issues, including how to stay motivated about lifestyle changes, how to cope with frustration, and ways to lessen anxiety about complications you may encounter.
Thanks to the Internet, you can enjoy many of the benefits of a support group without ever leaving home. Online message boards are a great place to connect with other people, and virtual communities have some distinct advantages over traditional support groups. For one thing, you can log on any time you want. You can also stay anonymous if you wish. As with face-to-face support groups, it’s probably best to find a message board that’s moderated by a professional.
Once again, the Joslin Diabetes Center offers a model service. The center runs discussion boards on a variety of topics, including meal planning, beating diabetes burnout, and the special challenges for teens living with diabetes. The discussion boards are open to everyone, not just Joslin patients. For more information, see http://www.joslin.org/
The Diabetes Hands Foundation is another online favorite of people with diabetes. You can find it here: diabeteshandsfoundation.org/
Signing up for a newsletter is a great way to stay informed about diabetes. Many newsletters combine practical tips with the latest news. Some will come to your mailbox, others are only available through e-mail. Ask your diabetes educator to recommend a newsletter that’s right for you. You can also browse through the newsletters offered by the American Diabetes Association at http://www.diabetes.org/ .
If you feel you’ve suffered discrimination because of your diabetes, you may need a different kind of support. The American Diabetes Association receives countless inquiries from people who want to know what they can do about discrimination on the job, at school, or elsewhere. The educational and legal resources available on the ADA Web site can help you protect your right to fair and equal treatment. For example, the ADA was involved in the case of a San Antonio man who was denied a job as a policeman because of his diabetes. The courts eventually ruled it unlawful to disqualify a job candidate solely on the basis of diabetes.
Whether you need to find out your rights on the job or just want to talk with others who understand the sort of day you’re having, help is available.
National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse. National Diabetes Statistics. November 2005. http://diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/statistics/
American Diabetes Association. Basic diabetes information.
Joslin Diabetes Center. How do I get support from family and friends. 2003.
Hippocrates. Can support groups heal?
Joslin Diabetes Center. Support groups. 2003.
Joslin Diabetes Center. About the Joslin discussion boards. 2003.
American Diabetes Association. Diabetes e-newsletters.
American Diabetes Association. Legal Advocacy at the ADA. http://www.diabetes.org/advocacy-and-legalresources/advocacy.jsp
American Diabetes Association. Diabetes Statistics. http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-statistics.jsp