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How to help a loved one with a diabetes diagnosis?

Question: My sister (age 35) was just diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I want to be supportive. What should I do? How can I help? What should I say to her?

Answer: For the newly diagnosed, it can take months to learn how to manage their diabetes. I often inform my patients during the initial stages to look at diabetes not over the course of the next three months, but over the long-term. Why is a long-term view important?

Because diabetes is a long haul, support--especially family support--is vital.

Indeed, a type 2 diagnosis not only affects the individual diagnosed, but the entire family as well. I ask my patients to bring a family member or a supportive friend when they are first diagnosed. For many patients, a diagnosis is a shocking and emotional event -- and, some patients go into complete denial. Having a friendly face with them can help ease the overwhelming emotions.

Helping your sister diagnosed with diabetes

I recommend you start wherever your sister is currently is at. What I mean: Find out her frame of mind with her diagnosis and go from there. Here are four things to do and not to do when helping a loved one with diabetes:

1. DON'T tell her what to do. When I counsel patients newly diagnosed with diabetes, the way in which I speak to a patient can make for an open ear or a brick wall. If I just tell patients what to do, I'm going to get a wall. Do not go and talk to her with all kinds of suggestions and directions, but instead allow her to do her own goal planning.

2. DO go to appointments and classes with her. With her permission, you could go to her doctor's visits, nutrition classes, appointments with her endocrinologist, etc. I always encourage my patient to bring family members to these classes and visits with me in the office.

3. DON'T be judgmental. It isn't your sister's fault that she developed diabetes. Be loving and focus on the positive. Tell her diabetes does not define her; rather, diabetes is just a small part of who she is.

4. DO check out community resources. It is important to find other support groups besides one's own family members or immediate circle of friends. Take advantage of community resources; a good starting point is the American Diabetes Association. They offer groups in communities throughout the country. Also, check out the Diabetes Online Community--through blogging, Twitter, Facebook and other online mediums, individuals with diabetes connect and support one another.

Finally, tell your sister you want to support her and you are available for anything she needs. By working together, the family can grow stronger and your sister should do just fine with her diabetes management.

About Catherine Estipona

Catherine Estipona, MSN APN provides family-centered care as a Family Nurse Practitioner. In addition to her day-to-day care of patients, she serves as a Diabetic Educator in the state of Nevada for Lilly USA, LLC, a pharmaceutical company.

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