Poll Finds Many Diabetes Caregivers Exhausted, Lacking Support
Diane Kondyra knows a lot about the hidden dangers of diabetes.
Both she and her husband have been diagnosed with the blood sugar disease, and her husband suffered one of its devastating complications in 2018 when he developed a staph infection that cost him part of his leg. Uncontrolled diabetes can restrict blood flow to the legs, making it more likely that simple cuts can turn into life-threatening wounds.
"I have firsthand experience to know, like anything, you always have to take care of your body ... because if you don't, things like this can happen," the 63-year-old said during a HealthDay Now interview.
The whole event was highly traumatic and stressful for Kondyra's family, but it also served as a wake-up call.
"The health problems that my husband has incurred, I don't want to have myself incur," Kondyra said. "I think it's woken us up to take better care of ourselves, to make sure that there are no injuries in the legs and the arms and there are no cuts that go undetected."
Kondyra is not alone in her struggle to manage the chronic condition.
Learning to live with type 2 diabetes can be a significant adjustment, as patients are often confronted with a steep learning curve and sweeping lifestyle changes. In some cases, the effects can reverberate beyond the individual patient and put a strain on their family and friends.
Diabetes is staggeringly common in the United States, affecting about 10% of the population, or 1 in 10 individuals. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, type 2 diabetes makes up more than 90% of these cases.
Considering its prevalence, most Americans now know or love someone with type 2 diabetes. That's borne out in a new survey conducted by the Harris Poll in partnership with HealthDay revealing the direct impacts of the disease on families and social support networks.
Providing care to a diabetes patient is no insignificant task -- caregivers play a crucial role in helping patients control their condition and prevent future complications. In the survey that questioned more than 2,000 American adults from June 9-13, more than 1 in 3 people identified as caregivers, meaning they live with or care for a child or adult with type 2 diabetes.
According to the CDC, the quality of diabetes patients' support networks is one of the best predictors of how well they'll manage their condition.
Diabetes management can be a serious undertaking for patients and their families, from the daily medications and frequent blood sugar checks to the dietary changes and health care bills. Almost 80% of Americans surveyed in the Harris poll said the entire household is affected by a family member with diabetes, while 60% of diabetes caregivers said their loved one's disease impacts all facets of their life.
Since 2018, Kondyra has made a series of life changes, including losing weight and using a new patch system to monitor her blood sugar, and her levels recently hit an all-time low. According to the Harris poll, these types of changes are common among people whose family members have diabetes -- of caregivers surveyed, 77% said their loved one's battle with diabetes inspired them to make positive lifestyle changes, such as eating better or being more active.
You can watch the full HealthDay Now interview below:
Living with diabetes is about striking the right balance of medications and lifestyle changes, along with routine monitoring through blood sugar checks and doctor's appointments. Determining the best strategies for you or your loved one also involves a great deal of knowledge.
However, only a tiny fraction of patients receive diabetes education, called diabetes self-management education and support (DSMES), despite evidence supporting the effectiveness of these services. The families of diabetic patients presumably receive even less instruction or none at all.
But new tools and technologies, including health tracking apps and continuous glucose monitors, can help, the poll found: 49% of patients said they use these to track their condition, and 60% said apps make it easier to keep their blood sugar levels in check.
Still, 9 in 10 participants agreed that doctors need to be more proactive with patients who have or are at risk of diabetes and help them find better ways to manage their health. Without the proper information and guidance, it's easy to understand why many struggle to keep their condition under control.
Take Ida Mendoza. She realized she was unprepared for diabetes immediately after receiving her diagnosis nearly 20 years ago. Her life changed abruptly when she went to the doctor for her annual physical at age 35 and walked out with a type 2 diabetes diagnosis and a prescription for metformin, a drug used to lower blood sugar levels.
At that time, she realized she didn't have a clue about managing the condition.
"I literally was told, 'You're now officially a type 2 diabetic. Here's a medication. The label says, take it twice a day, and that's it,'" Mendoza told HealthDay Now. "So I was on my way home from the doctor's office, and I thought, 'OK, now what do I do?'"
Mendoza thought about her family history of diabetes, and how many of her diabetic relatives had endured amputations, lost their eyesight or even died because they were uninformed. She resolved to face the diagnosis head-on, conducting her own research and consulting with various medical specialists, but she didn't see results right away.
"It scared the crap out of me, and it took me probably a good five years to where I felt like I was beginning to get it under control," Mendoza said.
With a solid routine that includes diabetic medications, regular exercise and a library of diabetes-friendly recipes, Mendoza has managed to keep her blood sugar levels in check. She has also become something of a diabetes educator herself as a volunteer advocate for the American Diabetes Association, and she is now the first person to call whenever a friend or relative has a diabetes-related question.
Mendoza handles her condition mostly independently, but she's created a support network for those around her because she knows it's not an easy road.
"I want to be well-educated for myself, but I want to be well-educated for my friends and family," Mendoza said. "They can see over the past 20 years how I've been managing my diabetes successfully, so I want them to know if they have questions, they can come to me."
While Mendoza believes that family can be helpful, she emphasized the importance of informed support.
"The people that you have in your home, whether it's children or adults, I think it's a great tool for you to tap into if they're able and willing to support you, but they also have to be educated," she said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on how friends and family members can help patients with diabetes.
SOURCES: Diane Kondyra, type 2 diabetes patient and caregiver, Long Island, N.Y.; Ina Mendoza, type 2 diabetes patient, volunteer, American Diabetes Association; Harris Poll/HealthDay Survey of 2,021 U.S. adults, conducted June 9-13, 2022