How to Take Care of a Diabetic Family Member

Given the magnitude of the problem, it’s a shame they only devote a single month of awareness to diabetes. (If you weren’t aware—in spite of efforts to raise awareness—November was Diabetes Awareness Month.)

See, this particular disease affects almost one out of every ten Americans.

That’s already bad, but it’s even worse when we lump in the additional 84 million who are prediabetic and at risk for developing a full-blown case of type 2 diabetes within five years.

Hopefully that doesn’t come to fruition, but it means more than one out of every four Americans could be diabetic by the end of 2023—and that number is actually dangerously close to one out of three!

Yeah, this is a very significant problem.

Why diabetes is so problematic for the human body

We talked about this in other articles  but it’s worth providing a quick summary for a simple reason—to provide a good quality of life in the “golden years” and may even save your loved one’s life. (And, yes, we’re still focusing on feet as we talk about a life-threatening issue.)

So here’s the CliffsNotes version:

Diabetes causes systemic damage in the human body with a triple attack. It impairs blood flow, damages nerves, and keeps the immune system from doing what it’s supposed to do—heal wounds and fight off infection.

Nerve damage from diabetes means wounds and other issues never set off your warning system   and thereby remain undetected and untreated Impaired circulation keeps an open wound or infected area from receiving adequate blood supply.

Of course, even if enough blood was flowing, the immune system is compromised and unable to properly do its thing.

 An acute injury, chronic and respective irritation, or foot deformity can damage the skin  to the point of ulceration. When there is a complete loss of blood flow gangrene may develop with a high risk for sepsis—which is life-threatening. In fact, the 5 year mortality rate for diabetic foot ulcers is worse than breast, colon, and prostate cancer.

To say the complications from diabetes is “bad news’ would be an understatement.

Before we move further along, it’s worth noting that our focus is with as the problems it causes—specifically, neuropathy (nerve damage) and restricted circulation. There are plenty of other problems that can produce the same effects (such as chemotherapy, nutritional deficiencies, and lower back injuries for example).

Alright, we’ve established diabetes is an issue that is both common and dangerous. Now it’s time to get to the heart (and this is affected too) of the matter:

Diabetic Family Member

Caring for a diabetic family member

Since you have invested the time to reading this blog, it is evident that you are concerned with the health of someone close to you .

The truth of the matter is that you might be only one in your family who is focused on health concerns. And—fair or not—it may be your responsibility to care for a diabetic family member.

We want you to:

  1. Understand the importance of what you’re doing for your loved one(s)
  2. Have the right tools and resources

Why is it so important to assist loved ones who have diabetes?

The diminished vascular supply isn’t just for the lower limbs. In fact, this is a major contributing factor for the elevated risk of blindness that accompanies diabetes.

Since your family member likely has impaired vision, you then become his or her eyes. But what about the staff if your parent, grandparent, uncle or aunt, etc. has been receiving professional care or is in a facility? If you’ve found issues in other areas of the body, it’s a pretty safe bet the feet have definitely been neglected.

Feet do tend to be the “low man on the totem pole”—which does apply from an anatomical perspective, but we mean it in a most decidedly figurative manner. No matter if there has been professional care or not, you should understand this: It is absolutely essential to catch things before they become a serious problem.

From a health context, we are talking about “ticking timebombs” when it comes to diabetic foot ulcers! And if that’s not enough, it’s probably worth considering that, , finding problems early will save you lots of time and money.

It is virtually impossible to attach a monetary value to the time, but we can reasonably quantify the possible financial impact as such—a diabetic issue found at a late stage that has become an emergency will cost thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars. (We’re pretty sure there are better  ways of spending money to prevent problems.)

 

What can you do for your diabetic family member?

The pillars for an effective diabetic foot care plan are centered around protection, prevention, and catching problems at the earliest opportunity. Accordingly, you can help your loved one by:

Providing what they need to protect their feet. When caring for a diabetic family member, you should make sure they have the right tools  to stay safe. Part of this entails  proper diabetic socks and shoes.

For diabetic socks, we tend to be rather partial to Smartwool varieties. They provide warmth and comfort, yet are breathable (which is a feature that reduces the risk for fungal growth and proliferation).

Regarding diabetic shoes, one of the various foot-related problems from diabetes is that feet can undergo physical changes over time. In spite of this, many afflicted individuals still wear the same size and styles of shoes from decades ago. Time changes and so do feet.

Frequent observation is key in reducing the odds of a minor problem snowballing into a medical emergency. If your loved one’s eyesight has not been compromised , walk them through what is entailed with a proper foot inspection. We are looking for redness, swelling, drainage or changes in the skin

In this case, ALL surfaces of the foo must be checked for ANYTHING out of the ordinary. Remember, little problems can become big problems. There are many times in life when you shouldn’t  “sweat the small stuff,” and this IS NOT one of them. So don’t just focus on the forest.

An area  that is easy to overlook is the areas between the toes—but missing these places is a huge mistake!

Sure, this might not seem like a big deal——but that’s exactly why it can be so dangerous. Problems between toes can easily go unnoticed and break down into serious complications.

FOOT HACK : The ability to bend over can prevent foot inspections, a long-handled mirror is helpful; a selfie stick is even better! This way, your diabetic family member can take a picture and use the zoom feature on his or her smartphone. (By the way, we give away selfie sticks to diabetic patients here at our office.)

(As an added bonus, this means Grandpa can look trendy as he takes selfies!)

Performing a daily foot check. In case you missed this earlier, uncontrolled diabetes causes a heightened risk of blindness. Before someone gets to the point of blindness, his or her eyesight will become impaired .  When you add neuropathy to this, you have a 1 -2 punch that can produce significant consequences. In such a case, it assistance will be required Just as we mentioned a second ago, you need to be aware for absolutely anything that isn’t normal on any surface of the feet.

Bringing them in for appointments. Depending on the situation, it might be your responsibility (again, fair or not…) to schedule medical appointments and provide transportation.

With regards to foot problems, you should contact our office for the earliest possible appointment whenever you become aware of any problems or irregularities.

If you happen to observe any signs of infection (Bright redness/cellulitus, moderate to high amounts of drainage, and increase in local or oral temperature), let us know, or take your family member to the emergency room right away.

NOTE: When pigmented or colored skin lesions are present, it is essential that you are aware of any changes to their appearance or texture.  Any spots that darken, change in size, or bleed could be a sign of skin cancer and something you definitely want to have evaluated by a medical professional.

 Balance and timing. It’s also essential to maintain proper balance when it comes to your family member’s meals, meds and exercise. With regards to meds and meals: they should be provided at the same time every day.

Why is that? Erratic eating patterns can affect blood sugar levels in a negative way—and that is a concerning situation.

We had also noted “exercise” for a very important reason: Inactivity is a problem with our older population while activity can play a beneficial role controlling blood sugar.  Regular physical activity can help in regulating blood sugar levels and promoting better circulation (and hopefully you understand how important that is now). It is important to exercise at a scheduled time just like meals and medicine.

  Many of my older patients use protective pads These cannot stay on forever, and need to be changed as often as you change your undergarments—and for a similar reason. (Ew… I know)

When you need help in helping your loved one, we’re here for you!

Too often, we’ll hear family members gasp  “We didn’t know about this problem!” or “ I never saw insert family member name here  feet. They never took off their socks and shoes

Hopefully, you’re  aware of the issue now and have a good understanding of what you need to do to help a family member who has diabetes., it is difficult to overstate the importance of checking a diabetic loved one’s feet—if they are unable to do so themselves—provide them with proper education on responsible foot care.

Something for you to consider is this:

Since the mechanics of the foot is a significant genetic trait, your parents’ feet can be like a crystal ball for your  future feet.

If they are struggling with issues, it’s possible you might have your own battles down the road. But at least you will understand what is happening and know what needs to be done.

In the event you need help, don’t hesitate to contact our office and request an appointment. We’ll be more than happy to work with you in creating a diabetic foot care plan—for a loved one or yourself—and to provide additional education and information.

Address

9505 E. 59th St., Suite A
Indianapolis, IN 46216

Phone Number

(317) 545-0505

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