Changing homes puts a huge strain on families and can impact people’s management of their diabetes. Unfortunately, with COVID-19 and the related shutdowns, many people are having to move whether they want to or not. But you can relocate successfully with diabetes, and you might even like the results.
First, the negative. Sociology professor Antwan Jones, PhD, of George Washington University wrote that, “When people move because of positive changes in their lives, the results can be good. But household moves rooted in adverse life changes (like eviction, foreclosure or unemployment) can result in negative outcomes for physical well-being and health.”
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After moving, says Dr. Jones, “Familiar neighborhood arrangements and social relationships get disrupted, and people can lose contact with supportive institutions such as churches, neighborhood associations and service providers. They may be forced to take up residence in less familiar surroundings, often with fewer nearby facilities and more crime.”
None of these changes are good for you. Diabetes self-management is about routine: eating healthfully, getting physical activity, resting, seeing health professionals and possibly taking medications. Moving house can make all those tasks more difficult, while increasing stress. Diabetes management can become a low priority, and moving itself has its own diabetes-related risks. Here are some ideas you can use for a successful move.
Emily Coles, who has lived all her life and moved several times with type 1 diabetes, says it’s important to organize your diabetes life for a move. “The general stress and upheaval of moving can easily result in forgetting important refill and expiration dates,” she says. In moving time, it’s even more important than usual to write down in some kind of organizer where things are and when things are scheduled. Keeping records and keeping them in a safe, findable place can be lifesaving.
You also have to keep your medicines and supplies where you can find them. “Keeping meds and medical equipment organized and accessible is extra difficult during a move,” says Coles. “It’s one thing to forget which box holds your underwear, a whole different problem if you forget which one has your test strips.”
Diabetes educator Karen Weissman, CDCES, tells patients they may have to change healthcare providers when they move. If they’re moving to a new state, they may also need to change insurance plans. They will need a new pharmacy, and many will need other support services. If possible, start lining up what you will need before you need it.
Coles says hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) is a risk of moving. “The physical activity of packing and carrying things can be a sneaky blood glucose dropper. It’s easy to get into an insulin reaction when doing a physical activity we don’t normally do, and may not really think of as exercise.” So, keep your glucose tabs handy and monitor more often if you’re taking insulin.
It’s also important to take steps to avoid injuries and infections. People with diabetes can get infections more easily, especially when blood sugar is high, as it might be during the stress of a move. Coles says, “Packing is a great way to get cuts and scrapes. For someone without diabetes, a scrape on the foot or shin from running into the coffee table might be no big deal, but for a person with diabetes, especially if they have neuropathy, cuts and scrapes on the feet can lead to serious infections.”
Coles says that, “For many people with diabetes, the stress of moving and the lack of sleep it causes can reduce insulin sensitivity, leading to elevated blood glucose.”
This stress may last for months as you try to settle in. Meditation, relaxation and prayer might help. Making your new environment as comfortable as possible for sleep is a worthwhile use of your move-in time.
All the activities of self-management may have to be re-organized in a new place, including:
Dr. Jones found that people who move tend to become physically inactive. This sedentary behavior was less common if people relocated to neighborhoods with parks, recreation centers and lower crime rates.
Without those amenities, exercise may take some creative thinking. Weissman says the people you used to walk with or the exercise classes you used to take may be far away. Weather can also make it harder to exercise, especially if it’s different from the weather you’re used to. You’ll need to find out what is safe and what is available near you. Is there a safe place or time to walk or a gym you can afford? Is there enough space in your new home to exercise?
Weissman says that “after moving, people often find they have lost social support around healthy eating. There may be cultural differences in the stores and restaurants in a new neighborhood.”
Find out where you can get the food you are used to and like. If you need or want to try different foods, can you find out how the available food fits into a healthy diabetes eating plan? You might want to see what discount food stores or farmers’ markets are available nearby.
Problems with exercise, food and stress can raise blood sugars. According to Weissman, you might want to talk with your doctor about temporarily increasing medication to get through your transition time. Medication or management methods might need to change until you can get the issues under control.
If you have to change doctors, you will need to form new relationships with them, and that can take time. Weissman encourages patients to find a good diabetes educator along with other health care providers, because movers most likely will have a lot of questions.
Moving will change your life. Many people in this era of COVID have had to move in with family or friends. Those relationships will need work, because conflict is not good for blood sugars. Be ready to take time and get help with fitting in.
You will also be meeting new people, and it helps to get to know some of them. Neighborhood friends can show you around and help in emergencies. Be brave about reaching out.
Keep track of what is working and what is giving you problems. Weissman says three months will be enough time to evaluate how well you’re doing in a new location, and what you can do about problems you have encountered.
Moving when you don’t want to is a huge challenge, but it has potential upsides. “While moving can be terrifying for some people,” says an article on the MoversUSA website, “the act of moving does give you a fresh start. You might find a new job in a new area, and meet lots of new people.”
Moves can be difficult physically and emotionally, but stay open to the new possibilities they bring. “Moving to a radically different place — a big city, a more rural area or even the suburbs — can have a dramatic effect on how you live your life,” the article says. “It can allow you to experience a new, interesting lifestyle. You can reinvent yourself in a new community.”
Even if you’re more interested in surviving a move than in reinventing yourself, following some of these strategies can allow you a healthy relocation experience.
Want to learn more about maintaining your health during the COVID-19 pandemic? Read “Healthy Eating During Hard Times,” “Managing Your Weight During a Pandemic” and “COVID-19: Staying Safe at Work.”
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