Listen & learn
When a person is first diagnosed with diabetes, the technical aspects of the disease can be overwhelming.
As a parent of a child with diabetes, you’ll certainly take on most of the initial responsibility of learning how to manage the disease. For partners, parents, or other close adults, keep in mind it’s easy for the person with the disease to become overwhelmed and tune out during those first few crucial healthcare visits. This is where a supportive family member can really make a difference. You can be the “eyes and ears” during the learning process, taking notes, reading up, and getting informed so when it’s time to make important decisions, you can provide valuable insight.
Give yourselves some time to adjust to a diabetes diagnosis. Some people go through a period of denial, which requires patience and a little extra support to get through the initial learning curve. Being supportive—without nagging—is key to helping your loved one cope with the big changes to diet and activity that go along with diabetes.
It can be helpful to model healthy behaviors they need to adopt to best manage the disease and prevent complications. After all, munching on a cupcake or a donut while admonishing your loved one to “eat smart” won’t get you very far. Instead, help prepare and eat the same healthy foods to send the message that you’re in this together. Planning exercise together is another way to make sure they get the activity that improves their (and your!) overall health.
If the diabetes diagnosis brings with it the need for insulin, the administration method will need to be decided. A new diagnosis generally means there will be an initial period during which the insulin will be injected manually, so you and your loved one will work together with your doctor and a certified diabetes educator (CDE) to learn how much, what types, and when insulin is given, and how to balance meals, snacks, and different types of food with particular doses and types of insulin. During this learning period, your loved one will need to use either an injection pen or vials and syringes to deliver insulin.
Insulin administration options: pros & cons
Disposable pens come prefilled with insulin, typically 300 units per pen. They are easy to use because you don’t have to load insulin cartridges, and, once they are empty or have been stored at room temperature for more than 28 days, you simply throw them away. While convenient, disposable pens tend to be more expensive, so you’ll want to check with your insurance first, to determine which costs and insulin delivery methods they will cover.
Reusable pens can deliver insulin in different amounts (usually 1/2-, 1-, or 2-unit increments) that can be mixed and matched to customize the amount. Reusable insulin pens are convenient, tend to be less expensive, and, if cared for properly may last a year or longer. However, these pens are limited to delivering insulin only in the unit increments specified by that pen.
Both reusable and disposable pens are available with larger or magnified number displays, making it easier to see the selected insulin dose. Overall, both disposable and reusable pens offer convenience and people like them because they are:
convenient for injections away from home
potentially safer, because delivering accurate doses simply requires turning a dial
The downsides are that they can:
waste some insulin during priming, and when a small amount is left in the pen that can’t be used
limit the types of insulin you can use, as not all types are available in pen form
require two or more injections per insulin delivery, if your mixture isn’t available in pen form
Vial & syringe
The most “low tech” insulin delivery option is a vial and syringe. Many people choose it because it is less expensive than pens, and allows for very precise mixing of different forms of insulin into one injection.
This method requires some manual dexterity, so if your loved one has arthritis in the hands or fingers, or challenges with fine-motor tasks, such as removing a lid from a child-proof medication bottle, this method may not work for them unless you or another caregiver is able to help.
Mix & match management techniques
Many people find they use different insulin delivery methods, depending on circumstances. Get informed so you can help your loved one decide on what works best for which circumstances. For example, perhaps keeping a disposable pen on hand when ultimate convenience is important makes the most sense during travel, holidays, or other busy family times. For day-to-day care, a reusable pen may be convenient when you and your loved one are away from home. While in the comfort of your own home, the economical syringe is a reasonable choice.
Likewise keep track of changes in diet and activity, and find what works best for you both. In the end, a diabetes diagnosis doesn’t have to cause family strife. By tackling the challenge along with your loved one, you’ll be giving a very valuable gift indeed!