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talk about diabetes

How to Talk to Loved Ones About Diabetes

Communication is how we share with each person we encounter – whether in work, at school, at the park or just choosing a movie to watch. This is how we connect with someone else to make a choice, provide information or even learn more ourselves. Living with kids has taught me a lot about communication. There are great ways to discuss, calm and negotiate and it has made me think a lot about how to share what is needed when I’m talking to others about my needs as a person with diabetes. At times, we have to really make it known that what is at stake is really important to manage right now and sometimes this can result in some miscommunication if you haven’t shared the importance of your management with those you are close to beforehand. Who to share with and the amount of information you share should be relevant to the setting or an experience that taught you what would have been good for another person to know prior to the experience. Information you share with your significant other, relatives, close friends or even your kids will be different than what you might share with your co-workers/boss or the neighbor down the street.

Our current “stay at home a lot” setting isn’t necessarily what anyone wants, but as we try to look for positives in this time, consider that it does offer more opportunity to teach others you love about your diabetes.

To ensure that communication is effective and to avoid lack of understanding and/or the assistance you need at a critical time, there are a few things that are good to keep in mind.

1. Plan ahead and pick a good time to discuss.
Make sure to provide information about your diabetes and management plan before any major issue comes up. Find a good time to have a conversation and make sure who you want to talk to is on board with the discussion. Don’t’ expect that bringing something up because it is on your mind at the moment is going to be an optimal time for someone else to learn. Also, aim to limit the number of people that you talk to at one time. This allows for a more even flow of discussion that is manageable.

Some times that are not optimal might be when there are distractions like during a favorite TV program, or in the middle of a work day or when on a rush out the door for something important. Try not to start a conversation when someone is using technology like a computer or the phone or when other people are near which may be a distraction (such as talking to your significant other when your kids are playing in the same room). Find times that might be opportune without disruptions.  This will be different based on who you want to talk to, but for a discussion with a family member you might want to plan a nice meal out of the house (or out on the patio right now), or perhaps while the kids are napping or otherwise occupied. Plan the time as if it were a meeting for work or an appointment with a doctor so that nothing else gets planned in the time frame. This may seem like over planning, however if you make it a point to discuss something (even like setting up a time to do taxes every year) then you can plan and get your mind wrapped around what you want to address and it also allows time for the other person to think of things they want to know, or how to help more effectively when you need the assistance.

2. Topics to discuss.
When thinking about what you want to talk about, it is good to have an idea of what to start with – simple information before more in depth stuff is a good way to begin.  You’ll need to have a few conversations to cover things completely.

If you are new to discussing diabetes with someone, consider what the person knows – it might start with asking them about how they see your management of diabetes and what they don’t understand. Start by explaining what diabetes is and the different types of diabetes, which can make a difference in perception and can help them see how your management differs from someone else.

Topics that are important include:

  • Causes of diabetes and types of diabetes
  • Hypoglycemia – symptoms and how to help
  • Medications- how they work
  • Products or technology in use – how they work
  • Illness
  • Activity/Exercise – strategies for management
  • Mental health – give examples of how you need them to support you
  • Nutrition – discuss how food has impact on BG and why you might choose differently than others
  • Short- and Long-term complications and prevention

3. Accept feedback
Communication in the right way is always 2 sided (or 3 sided – you might be the monkey in the middle!). You have to know how to inform as well as take feedback or answer questions. We have to actively listen to be able to provide the right answers and help this other person know what to do in case of need.  Since you’ll have planned a time to talk, the other person will likely have thought of things to ask about that they feel are important. Make sure to answer questions without making the other person feel silly for asking. Remember you are the one with diabetes and you are trying to teach them.

4. Revisit communication with change 
In the world of diabetes management today things are ever changing. In fact, things are very different than they were just 5 years ago. A good example is discussing diabetes with my Mom versus my husband. My Mom remember diabetes management when I was diagnosed 32 years ago. When she visits, she is amazed by what I do differently, and she asks questions about things constantly because everything I use today to assist in my management wasn’t even a thought when my parents were in charge. If my Mom had to help me for some reason, I’d have a very different list of things to start with compared to what I discuss with my husband when I change something up with my strategy.

Remember to discuss what is needed with the person you are educating. What you teach your kids as an adult with diabetes, would be different than what you as a parent of a child with diabetes teaches family members, and very different than what you would teach your significant other or boss.

The more you educate those around you with good information through healthy communication the better you’ll feel about feeling supported in your own efforts. Communication is important throughout life, but when it is specific to your own health it can sometimes cause arguments if there is a lack of knowledge from one person. 
As always, if you would like assistance in educating others Integrated Diabetes Services has a great team of clinicians who all live with diabetes and all have families too. Learning to communicate better can start with having the best information.

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