Did you know that one out of every 11 people in the U.S. has diabetes? That’s about 29.1 million Americans. Another 86 million adults in the U.S. are at high risk for developing Type 2 diabetes or have pre-diabetes.
That’s why we observe National Diabetes Month every November. It’s an important time for all patients, clients, health care providers, schools, and community organizations to come together to talk about diabetes.
Those of us with diabetes realize how important good management is, and we take it personally. We understand the need to balance day-to-day nutrition, activities and medication, and seek support when appropriate.
When we effectively self-manage diabetes, we are involved in our care and treatment decisions, get daily physical activity, eat meals regularly, manage our stress, get adequate rest, and keep our blood sugar under control. An illness, infection, surgery, or a traumatic event adds more balls that need to be juggled in order to manage our condition. For many of us, it feels like a full-time job with added overtime!
Though not directly affected, our loved ones, family members, friends, or co-workers sometimes wonder how they can provide the best support. They want to help, but may not know what to do. That’s why it’s so important for those of us with diabetes to learn to communicate effectively—to let those who care about us know how to support us. It’s up to us to identify our needs and not wait for people around us to guess.
One way to identify ways people can help you is to write down the things you need or want. Then circle the ones someone else can help you with or do for you. Don’t forget emotional support and time doing things that are special. When people ask you how they can support you, you have a ready-made list!
There are different types of diabetes and those of us with diabetes are at varying stages of our condition, but we share many of the same challenges. Mental health and physical health factors can seem overwhelming to all of us at times. If we remember that self-management can prevent related problems such as poor oral health, kidney disease, heart disease, vision loss, heart attack, stroke, and amputations, we realize that the effort to manage diabetes is well worth it.
People with diabetes are at special risk for periodontal (gum) disease, an infection of the gum and bone that hold the teeth in place. Periodontal disease can lead to painful chewing difficulties and even tooth loss. Dry mouth, often a symptom of undetected diabetes, can cause soreness, ulcers, infections, and tooth decay. To address these issues, we need to see a health care provider, get regular oral health check-ups by a medical provider or dentist, and floss regularly.
As with all chronic conditions, diabetes cannot be cured by self-care practices, but it can be managed.
No matter what type of diabetes you have, or how long you’ve had it, self-management is not easy. Some days you will feel tired—burned out—and wish you could have a vacation from it. Self-management isn’t easy, but you owe it to yourself and those who love you to take it seriously and ask for help when you need it.
Remember—you are worth it!
Kathryn Ramos and Mary Pat O’Leary contributed to this article. Kathryn is a health and clinical content specialist at Group Health Cooperative. Mary Pat is an RN and a planner at Aging and Disability Services, the Area Agency on Aging for Seattle-King County. Both are Living Well with Chronic Conditions (the Chronic Disease Self-Management Program) trainers. For more information, visit www.agingkingcounty.org/what-we-do/healthy-aging.