Preventing Diabetes Accidents

Nobody expects accidents. That’s what makes them accidents. But the element of surprise is misleading. The actual events seem like bad luck, but our environment, our health, and our behavior set them up.

Most accidents can be prevented by safe behaviors and being aware of our environments. In that way, accidents are much like diabetes complications. Diabetes puts you at risk, but how much risk is largely up to you. Accident prevention is part of self-management.

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People with diabetes injure themselves in falls more often than those without diabetes and also have more risk for traffic accidents and some other kinds of accidents. Why is this, and how can you avoid becoming one of those statistics?

Here are some of the types of accidents related to diabetes, and what you can do:

Falls
People with diabetes are more likely to fall on stairs if they have numbness in their feet, called peripheral neuropathy, or PN. A recent study from England measured how much people swayed from side to side as they went up or down stairs. Those with numb feet swayed much more, which could throw them off balance, leading to a fall.

Lead researcher Steven Brown of Manchester Metropolitan University told an interviewer that people with PN had average “normal sway.” They could walk just fine. But they had far greater “maximal sway,” showing that “the increased risk of falling stems from momentary periods of instability rather than continuously poor control.” In other words, they are more likely to stumble or take a bad step.

So if a person with diabetes and numb feet falls down stairs, that’s an accident. But it was an accident waiting to happen. People with PN should have handrails on stairways, preferably on both sides. Hold them when going up and down stairs.

Falls have several other diabetes-related causes. Poorer vision might cause you to trip over things. So some falls can be prevented with good lighting. Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) might cause you to lose balance, so preventing hypos helps.

Some medicines can cause dizziness, leading to falls. If you notice dizziness, tell your doctor and adjust medications if necessary.

A common cause of falls is junk left lying around the floor, especially on stairs. Children are especially likely to do this. Diabetes is another good reason to keep things neat. We have a good download on preventing falls here.

Bathtub injuries
Neuropathy also sets you up for heat injuries to your feet. If you have PN, never get in a bathtub or a shower without checking the water temperature with your arm first. Never. And have grab bars installed on the walls of your tub to prevent falls.

Driving accidents
One day last year, I had just gotten off a city bus in San Francisco when another bus slammed into the one I had been on. The driver had fallen asleep at the wheel, and 14 people went to the hospital. Turned out the driver had diabetes and had gone low and fallen asleep.

People with diabetes who have lows are more likely to have auto accidents. Diabetes-related vision problems can also increase the risk for driving mishaps.

Preventing hypos should be the number one priority for drivers with diabetes. As you probably know, it’s better to have a blood glucose level that’s a little high than to risk going low while driving.

If you have visual problems, night driving may not be for you. Here are some tips from the American Diabetes Association on safe driving with diabetes. Better yet, don’t drive as much. Take public transportation or walk and get some exercise.

Accidents with insulin dosage
When I worked as a hospital nurse, we didn’t use insulin pens or insulin pumps or other methods that can help you be sure of how much you’re giving. We had to be very careful to give exactly the amount of insulin that was ordered.

But what if you can’t see the little lines on the syringe? What if your hands shake? It’s really easy to give a wrong dose, and people do that to themselves fairly often. With pens and pumps this doesn’t happen as much, but we still need to be careful.

Household accidents
Statistically, homes are dangerous places. According to Prevention magazine, over 4,000 people each year are injured in cooking accidents, mostly burns and cuts. Low vision increases the risks. Get good oven mitts and good lighting and take your time with cutting.

In fact, taking our time with everything we do is the best way to prevent accidents. That’s hard to do in our stressful world, but if you can remember to breathe and slow down, you can still get things done while being safe.

If you have any diabetes safety tips, please share them with us. You might save somebody a lot of grief.

  • Lee Ann

    I have volunteered at a building project at which safety meetings take place at least 3 times a day.

    One of the surprises was in the kitchen department. Cutting food while standing up is strictly forbidden due to the risk of falls and loss of control of the knife! Always sit when cutting food. It feels uncomfortable at first, so take enough time to really control the knife.

  • Ferne

    I have a problem with falls but none of them seemed to be caused by those in the article. I just fall without a reason and with no inclination that I’m going to fall. It’s not from neuropathy and I never go up and down stairs. So far I haven’t been hurt but sometimes have trouble getting up. I am very careful with having adequate light, getting my balance when standing up and not a throw rug in the house. I always use a cane when out and about. I am 81 and very fortunate to have high bone density for my age.

  • Dawn

    A few years ago, I fell down the stairs and didn’t know how I fell. I looked at my feet and saw the bottom of my right looking back at me. I had broken my ankle that landed me in the hospital for several days. I, too, was lucky to have good bone density. I healed with no problem within 6 months. The mystery is still how I fell; I just remember ending up at the bottom of the stairs.

  • Pam

    I am only 52 and have the same problem as to falling without a reason. I have diabetes since I was 21.

  • Marlene

    My husband bought me 2 cut proof gloves to wear while cutting in the kitchen. They help to prevent slips of the knife injuries. He ordered them on line for me.

  • Mariano Patalinjug

    Yonkers, New York
    10 October 2014

    I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes with Peripheral Neuropathy first week of January 2007

    That was over 7 years ago.

    With good care by competent doctors, I have so far avoided getting the kind of accidents spelled out in this Article.

    Fortunately, the nerves on my feet have not been severely damaged. Every time my Podiatrist tests my feet for sensitivity, I pass easily.

    I am very careful with my Diet. I make sure that I go slow on Carbohydrates, and eat a good dose of vegetables and fruits. I avoid gorging myself.

    I also take my two medicines as prescibed, daily:
    Januvia 50 mg and Glipizide 20 mg.

    I was on Insulin–HUMALOG 50/50 KWIK PEN–for a few months since January last year–but for some 4 months now, with my Blood Glucose stabilizing at or below 150 NPO–which is equivalent to an HbAIC of 7-8–I am no longer taking Insulin.

    Mariano Patalinjug

  • Awmeme

    Marlene,

    Where did your hubby find the gloves at? Do they also help to prevent burns? Even before I was diabetic I burned very easily. What on a normal person would be like a 1st degree burn would be a 2nd or 3rd degree on me (or whichever way the scale goes). I’ve been a diabetic for 20 years or so, plus have neuropathy all over my body, so everything is super slow healing. For example have a couple bites on my leg got them beginning to mid august they are still healing. I love to cook but constantly burn myself so something to help prevent it would be nice.