Barry Jacobs, PsyD, likes to say that caregiving for someone with type 2 diabetes isn’t a sprint—it’s a marathon. Jacobs, who is a psychologist, health care consultant, and former caregiver, explains that when running a marathon, it helps to be familiar with the route, including the peaks and valleys. Likewise, for caregivers, it’s important to learn about the illness, make supporting lifestyle changes together over time, work with a health care team, and encourage self-care.
But that’s not all, says Jacobs, who co-authored 2 books about caregiving. The role of caregiving demands caring for yourself as well.
“It requires a certain kind of patience and certain degree of replenishment. No one runs a marathon successfully when you’re running past the water station at mile five and saying, ‘No thanks, I’m not thirsty.’ People who are really intent on getting from start to finish know that they need to take in as much replenishment as they can at every point in the race,” Jacobs says.
To help tap into that stamina, Jacobs shared some advice about being a caregiver.
See yourself as an advocate
For some people, it might be easy to fall into the role of “enforcer” or “nag” when caregiving, says Jacobs. Instead, try and be as encouraging as you can. “If it’s our partner, we know they have certain buttons we want to push and buttons we don’t want to push. You have to know the person you’re dealing with,” says Jacobs.
Instead, try to position yourself as an advocate for your care recipient. If you have their permission to attend doctor’s appointments with them, you can add your thoughts to the conversation so the health care team can get a complete picture of the care recipient’s health and help figure out improvements to get them closer toward their goals.
Tackle it as a team
When a loved one gets a type 2 diabetes diagnosis, it’s likely that their care team will recommend lifestyle changes. However, those changes may be daunting to make alone. So why not show support by making those changes along with them? Whether it’s making a habit out of long walks or cooking new, healthy recipes, most of these behavioral modifications are beneficial to everyone—not just people with type 2 diabetes.
Jacobs agrees. He suggests making an “emotional wellness plan” with your care recipient. In addition to diet and activity changes, he suggests trying a number of stress relief techniques that may help you both as you take on new healthy habits.
Caregiving can be challenging and stressful, and for some caregivers, it may be difficult to make time for oneself. Jacobs says that in order to be most supportive of the person you’re caring for, however, you must make yourself a priority. “There has to be a balance between what caregivers do for themselves and what they do for others. Diabetes is a chronic illness, and someone may have this for decades,” he says.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encourages caregivers to find a support group to give themselves a chance to connect with people in a similar situation, and also share information and experiences. It may help them feel less isolated, too.
Learn to communicate with your care recipient’s doctor
When accompanying a care receiver to a medical appointment, the CDC also has suggestions for how to make the most out of your visit. You may want to spend some time before the appointment writing down a list of current medications, any recent changes in behavior, overall health, or routines in addition to your questions and concerns to share with the provider. In the office, it may be helpful to take notes that you can reference later when talking with the person you’re caring for and as a point of future reference for yourself.
If caregiving is a marathon, Jacobs says that it’s important for caregivers to pace themselves. By following these tips, he hopes caregivers may have the guidance they need to help care for people with type 2 diabetes.