Your Diabetes and Your Family

Diabetes is hard on the person who has it. But it also affects your children and the rest of your family. How can we make living with diabetes easier — even positive — for ourselves and our loved ones?

Once again, I ask you to help me out — you haven’t failed me yet — because I’m speaking on diabetes and families this September in Denver. What problems does diabetes cause in a family? Several possibilities:


• The person with diabetes may want to make dietary changes that other family members resent: “What happened to the cookies?”

• Other family members may feel fear for your health and perhaps also for their own.

• The time, expense, and effort needed to manage diabetes may leave you less attention to give your family.

• Family, and especially children, may wish for a “more normal” family. Most kids hate to be “different.”

• Changes in your sexuality and energy levels can be tough on partners.

• Family members may try to take control of your diabetes management.

• The person with diabetes may get down on themselves for being unwell. Family members may feel bad about not doing more to help.

Are there other issues I haven’t mentioned?

What strategies have you used to make things better? When it comes to food, we know that a healthy diabetes diet is good for people without diabetes, too. We also know that children of people with Type 2 have a higher risk for developing it themselves. If we can get kids interested in being healthy while they’re young, they will likely be healthier later on. So we can tell them that. But will that help them get with the program?

Fearing for you can create a lot of worry for relatives. Fearing your potential complications makes it harder to plan for the future. If you’re struggling, it may cause them sadness. On the other hand, if you are managing well, that might give them confidence and inspire them in handling their own problems.

From my work with chronic illness, I would think that honest communication is key. How much does your family know about diabetes? You can provide or steer them toward as much diabetes information as they want to know. They may or may not be interested, though. It helps to make it easy and nonthreatening for them to find out about it, but how do you do that?

Other family members may resent the time and attention you give to diabetes. Maybe you used to visit or watch TV with them after dinner, but now you need that time for a long walk. How do you make that OK, or even a positive thing for them?

Certainly if there have been sexuality changes, you and your partner need to talk about them.

Then there’s the way they treat you. If a spouse or child gets into diabetes policing, how do you get them to back off? Family members asking “Should you be eating that?” all the time, or “Have you checked your blood sugar?” any time you get annoyed about something won’t help you monitor more effectively.

It’s always better to keep you family clued in about how you’re doing, and to ask them how they’re doing. This probably doesn’t need to be a big project. You don’t need to do it every week. But checking in with each other can help everyone cope.

Are there ways they could help you more, or things you could do that would make them feel better? It might be worth thinking about those issues and letting them know.

I also wonder, do your children motivate you to take care of yourself more? People often say they want to live to play with their grandchildren or see their kids grow up or something.

So how has your diabetes affected your family, for good or bad? Thanks in advance for letting us know.

  • Sheri

    My husband was diagnosed Type 1 diabetes at age 49. We had been married a long time and had our family rhythms worked out well. Our three kids were teenagers at the time. Frankly, the illness came out of the blue and the first two years were terrible for us. Since then, as we all have gotten adjusted to it, we can more easily roll with the punches.
    Besides the excellent list you mentioned above is the mood fluctuations when the blood sugar level changes! My husband is usually about the most calm and delightful person to be around. We love each other deeply and I have great respect for him. But when his bs level is high, he becomes cranky. When he wakes up and his bp is high, he can’t get awake very fast or get up very promptly. When his bs is low he is a different kind of cranky. When he has a bad low, he is out of commission, just sitting there, not talking, not able to do anything, no matter how much I “need” him. His bs affects our marital communication greatly. I have had to grow so much.
    He has some other health issues that also affect him and I am proud of how he manages his life, but his bs is probably not as stable as other peoples’. I’d be happy to talk with you, email me.

  • Jim Porter

    Around 76 yrs I became type 2 Diabetic. Have always been healthy and energetic. now approachng 80 I still feel ok and try to exercise pretty regularly. I don’t like to take meds and have been trying Dr. Whitakers supplements and take 500mg of metformin but resist taking a second 500mg. My last AIC was 6.6 I used to not care much for sweets but now love them but resist them some what. My feet so far are ok but have tingling in them constantly. Any suggestions? And should I try to contact a Diabetic Doctor?

  • Joe


    Another great topic. One thing you didn’t really touch on is denial. I’m 51 and have been Type 2 for about 10 years. I don’t look “sick” and my wife seems to have difficulty believing I have an illness. She gets frustrated if I’m feeling tired when she has a weekend full of chores and errands planned. She doesn’t seem to understand that the disease takes a toll or that my energy levels fluctuate from day to day, or that my meds can make me feel sick sometimes. I’ve tried to talk to her about what the future may be like, but she insists I’m going to be strong and healthy forever. There are times I want to do nothing but rest, yet I keep pushing myself so she won’t be disappointed.

    How do you communicate about your illness with someone who refuses to believe you’re ill?

    Oh, and for Jim Porter: See an endocrinologist. Supplements are great, but you really want to have your treatment plan supervised by an expert. One of the things my endo discovered was that I have difficulty absorbing certain nutrients like vitamin D, iron, and calcium. I wouldn’t have known if she hadn’t been looking for it.

  • Deena

    Hello David, one thing that you didn’t mention is the mood swings. My husband is Type 2 and he can be absolutely evil, which creates a hostile environment in our home. His blood sugar is controlled with Janumet and his Dr. just started him on Glucofage to add to his daily meds, which has his blood sugar dropping below 65 at times. Lordy, I feel like I need to find a new place to live sometimes.

  • Rick Lagrand

    My problem is diet. My wife is in the early stages of Alzheimers Disease, does not know it (for her sake I prefer that), and insists on cooking items that she has always cooked. When I suggest adding or substituting things (viz: sweet potatoes vs potatoes)she agrees but then forgets. I’ve clipped recipes for her, accompanied her in shopping (she hated that), and pointed out articles in magazines. I don’t know what else I could do except hurt her by taking over the cooking for myself. (I am 81, have type 2, have had it for about two years, and recently my A1c went from 6.3 to 7) Am now taking 500 mg Metformin daily.

  • David Spero RN

    Thanks for mentioning the mood swings that come with glucose level changes. What advice do people have for dealing with this in a loved one (or in yourself?) Doctors don’t seem to take it seriously.

    Rick, sad to hear about your wife’s mental issues. Perhaps it would help to write down some “recipes” or “menus” of food you want and say you got it from the Internet or some show.

  • rita

    my hole family have diabetes 1 and 2 , my auntys and uncles and their kids and their kids my grandmother die in 2005 from it they want to remove her legs at 89 years old, my sister 17 year old has diabetes 1 and iv 2 7 years now diabetes run in both ma and da family

  • rita

    my hole family have diabetes 1 and 2 , my auntys and uncles and their kids and their kids my grandmother die in 2005 from it they want to remove her legs at 89 years old, my sister 17 year old has diabetes 1 and iv 2 7 years now diabetes run in both ma and da family