by Elissa Lewin~When I speak with groups, I tell my audience, “ Caregivers are at increased risk of developing diabetes.” It’s a statement repeated in all the literature. Yet when I searched, there were many articles on how to take care of someone else who has diabetes, but few pertaining to caregivers themselves.
The truth remains, however, that caregivers are at increased risk and need to pay attention to their diabetes.
According to a 2005 study by Katon and Rutter, caregivers who have diabetes, and especially caregivers who have diabetes and depression, are living with a deadly combination, having an increased risk of end-organ damage. Important here is both caregiving and diabetes separately increase the likelihood of having a depressive episode.
The causes of diabetes are integral in the lives if caregivers. Major risk factors include obesity, inactivity, and abnormal levels of cholesterol and triglycerides. All of these hormones are affected by the presence of cortisol, the stress hormone. Race and genetics predispositions cannot be controlled and are further cause for attention.
At Nancy’s House, we help people learn more healthful choices, but they are not always popular. Below are the health suggestions, some common arguments I hear, and what caregivers can do to maintain self-care.
Eat a healthy diet, high in vegetables and lean proteins, low in fats, sugars, and carbohydrates. “I don’t have time to cook.” If you believe you don’t have time to cook, you rely on prepared foods, full of salt, fat, and sugar. If you are exhausted and looking for that sugar boost, you are going to grab that candy bar. Unfortunately, these short-term fixes create long-term problems.
Better: Plan meals ahead; do large batch cooking or ask someone to help prepare meals for you so you can just heat things up; use a grocery delivery service to be sure you have healthy choices on-hand; and don’t let yourself get too hungry. For example, a snack of apple slices and 2 ounces of low-fat cheddar cheese with a handful of almonds is easy for grazing, healthy, satisfying and a much better choice than a Snickers bar.
Exercise regularly. “Does lifting my loved one onto and off of the toilet count as exercise?” While it takes strength to do it, this is not exercise.
Better:is a quick-paced walk or putting on music and dancing for cardio for 45 minutes three times a week. Can’t get out for a walk? Can a friend, neighbor, church member or relative come visit three times a week so you can get out and exercise? You don’t know until you ask.
Manage your stress. Between dealing with what has to happen right now and worrying about what will happen next, life is constant stress.
Better: Yes, life as a caregiver can be stressful. Management comes not in changing the stressor but in our response to it. A friend created the motto “Sempre Gumby”, or “always flexible.” Reasonable expectations, knowing that things are going to change, finding ways to breathe through the crisis, and asking for help all help. Find humor (gallows humor counts!) or gratitude in the moment.
As caregivers, we are the rock on whom others depend. It does not serve anyone if that rock crumbles, hospitalized , or worse, with kidney failure as a result of Type 2 Diabetes.
It is essential that we take care of ourselves with the same love and dedication we show our loved ones. Find out for yourself how high your risk is of developing diabetes at The American Diabetes Association. Then, take the steps needed to prevent or manage the disease.