These 5 steps will help caregivers manage their aging parent's diabetes and live a long and active life.

1.  Educate Yourself About Diabetes in the Elderly

The more you know about diabetes, the better you as a caregiver can work with your health care team to manage your elderly parent's disease and reduce their risk for problems. You should know what type of diabetes your parent has. If you do not know, ask your doctor whether they have type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Terms that suggest that diabetes is not serious, such as "a touch of diabetes," "mild diabetes," and "sugar's a little high," are not correct and should no longer be used.

2. Take Care of the ABCs of Diabetes

A major goal of treatment is to control the ABCs of diabetes: A1C (blood glucose average), Blood pressure, and Cholesterol.

Talk to your health care team about how to manage your A1C (blood glucose or sugar), Blood pressure, and Cholesterol. This will help lower your chances of having a heart attack, a stroke, or other diabetes problems. Here's what the ABCs of diabetes stand for:

  • A for the A1C test
    The A1C Test shows you what your blood glucose has been over the last three months. The A1C goal for most people is below 7. High blood glucose levels can harm your heart and blood vessels, kidneys, feet, and eyes.
  • B for Blood pressure. The goal for most people is 130/80. High blood pressure makes your heart work too hard. It can cause heart attack, stroke, and kidney disease.
  • C for Cholesterol.
    The LDL goal for most people is less than 100. The HDL goal for most people is above 40. LDL or "bad" cholesterol can build up and clog your blood vessels. It can cause a heart attack or a stroke. HDL or "good" cholesterol helps remove cholesterol from your blood vessels.

3. Eat Diabetes-Friendly Foods

Make sure your elderly parent follow his/her diabetes meal plan. If you do not have one, ask your health care team for one. The plan includes:

  • Eat healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables, fish, lean meats, chicken or turkey without the skin, dry peas or beans, whole grains, and low-fat or skim milk and cheese.
  • Keep fish and lean meat and poultry portions to about 3 ounces (or the size of a deck of cards). Bake, broil, or grill it.
  • Eat foods that have less fat and salt.
  • Eat foods with more fiber such as whole-grain cereals, breads, crackers, rice, or pasta.

Of course, a healthy diet goes hand-in-hand with a healthy lifestyle. Encourage your mom or dad who has diabetes to:

  • Get 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week. Brisk walking is a great way to move more.
  • Learn to cope with stress. Stress can raise blood glucose. While it is hard to remove stress from your life, your parent can learn to handle it.
  • Stop smoking. Ask for help to quit.
  • Take medicines even when he/she feels good. Ask your doctor if your parent needs aspirin to prevent a heart attack or stroke. Tell your doctor if your parent has any side effects.

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4. Understand your parent's diabetes.

Each person's experience with diabetes is different. What things are hard for your friend to manage? What things are easy? Find out what your loved one needs.
Try asking these questions.

  • What do I do that helps you with your diabetes?
  • What things are harder for you to do because of your diabetes?
  • What do I do that makes it harder for you to manage your diabetes?
  • What can I do to help you more than I do now?

Instead of nagging, find ways to be helpful.

5. Get Regular, Ongoing Care

As a caregiver, it is important that you see your elderly parent's health care team regularly to check for problems that diabetes can cause. Regular check-ups help to prevent problems or find them early when they can be treated and managed well. Along with the checks of your A1C, blood pressure, and cholesterol (see Principle 5), here are some tests that your aging parent will need:

  • Triglycerides (a type of blood fat)
  • Dilated eye exam to check for eye problems
  • Complete foot exam to check for circulation, loss of feeling, sores, or changes in shape
  • Urine test to check for kidney problems
  • Dental exams to prevent gum disease and loss of teeth

Ask your doctor about these and other tests your loved one may need to have.

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