Planning ahead makes good sense for anyone with diabetes, but for someone who lives alone, it takes on added importance. When you live alone, for example, you can’t take for granted that someone will be with you — or even come home eventually — to help if you develop hypoglycemia or to get supplies for you if you get sick. Sticking to a meal plan can also be a challenge if you don’t enjoy preparing meals for one. And getting the support you need from others may take more effort if it has to come from outside the home. Nonetheless, people with diabetes can and do manage their diabetes successfully while living alone. If you live alone, here are a few tips to help you deal with these and other challenges.
Hypoglycemia is a common side effect of diabetes therapy, particularly insulin use, and if you develop moderate or severe hypoglycemia while you are alone, it can be dangerous. Your best tool for preventing hypoglycemia is regular blood glucose monitoring. To get a more complete picture of your blood glucose activity, try varying the times of day you check your blood glucose level. For instance, some days you might check before a meal, and other days you might check one to two hours after a meal. In this way, you can get an idea of how your levels change throughout the day and identify times you might be at risk for hypoglycemia. At least once a month, it is also a good idea to do a blood glucose check in the middle of the night to monitor your sleeping levels.
If you frequently experience hypoglycemia, talk to your doctor. Let him know that you live alone and that preventing hypoglycemia is a priority for you. If you don’t use one already, your doctor may suggest switching to a rapid-acting oral medicine or insulin. The newer, rapid-acting pills and insulins carry less risk of hypoglycemia than the older, slower-acting ones. Also, the new peakless basal insulin analog, insulin glargine (brand name Lantus), may have less risk of hypoglycemia than older, long-acting insulins. Using an insulin pump can also reduce the risk of hypoglycemia as long as basal and bolus doses are calculated correctly. You might also ask your doctor if using a continuous glucose monitoring system would be helpful for you. Such devices can reveal patterns in blood glucose levels that are often missed by regular monitoring.
In general, if you feel you could use more help learning to manage your diabetes, consider making an appointment with a certified diabetes educator who can work with you on monitoring and other diabetes tasks. A diabetes educator may also be able to offer Blood Glucose Awareness Training (BGAT), which helps people with diabetes recognize and interpret symptoms associated with high and low blood glucose levels. Your doctor may be able to recommend an educator, or you can find a list of certified diabetes educators in your area at www.aadenet.org. You can also call the American Association of Diabetes Educators at (800) 832-6874.
In addition to regular blood glucose monitoring, establishing connections with other people can be an important part of maintaining personal safety. Depending on your comfort level, it can be to your advantage to let people near you know that you have diabetes, such as neighbors, friends, or local shopkeepers with whom you have regular contact. You may want to ask a few neighbors if you could call them in the event of a “diabetes emergency.” If they say yes, keep their phone numbers in an accessible place, or program your phone to call them with the press of a button. Consider establishing a buddy system with a network of people who know to check in with you if you are out of contact for a specified period of time. You can give a person you trust an extra key to your house so that someone can gain entry if you are unable to open the door.