Approximately 3.5 million people are diagnosed with diabetes in the UK, with a further half a million believed to be living undiagnosed. This equates to roughly 1 in 16 people, meaning it's likely that, as a carer, you will come across people living with the condition. As such, it is important to know how to help care for them should they require it. This article outlines what diabetes is, and explains how diabetic patient care can ensure they live a relatively normal life.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a condition related to the body’s production of insulin. There are two types of diabetes, both of which act differently.
Type 1 diabetes:
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition, wherein the body attacks its own insulin-producing cells. It is the least common of the two, constituting 10% of all diagnoses. Type 1 diabetes is not linked to lifestyle choices or factors such as being old or overweight. Research is ongoing, but the consensus is that genetic factors cause type 1 diabetes. Therefore, you are much more likely to get it if a close family member (parent or sibling) has type 1 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes:
Type 2 diabetes is one of two things, either when the body doesn’t produce sufficient insulin, or when the body’s cells don’t react properly to it. The type of diabetes you will probably be more familiar with, type 2 can have a genetic trigger (you are more likely to suffer from it if you are of certain ethnicities) but is typically believed to be a result of a poor lifestyle. Being overweight or physically inactive are the general triggers of the condition.
Symptoms of diabetes
The symptoms of diabetes are the same for both types. These include lethargy, frequent thirst and urination, blurred vision, slow healing cuts and grazes, recurring thrushes, and losing weight without trying to. If your patient has any of these symptoms, you should contact their GP, and they will order urine and blood tests to help determine whether or not you have diabetes. Even if they are generally feeling unwell and show any of the above symptoms, it is one of the first things a GP will look at.
It is important to obtain a diagnosis because, without a managed lifestyle or medication, diabetes can be a life-threatening condition. Failing to manage the condition can lead to strokes, numbness, foot problems, miscarrying, blindness, and kidney failure.
Another typical symptom of diabetes is mood swings. Low blood-glucose levels are notable for increased emotional responses, as low sugar levels can reduce inhibitions. This often manifests as anger, irritability, irrational anxiety, or ‘silliness’.
Likewise, high blood-glucose levels can also cause anger or irritability, typically along with a sense of discomfort and fatigue.
Diabetic patient care and how to manage clients with diabetes
The way to care for someone with diabetes entirely depends upon their age. Type 1 diabetes generally manifests during childhood, and so it is important to understand the symptoms of high and low blood pressure. Long periods of exercise will lower the child’s blood sugar levels, and stress can either lower or heighten the levels. Their diet must consist of the correct level of carbohydrates, and they must get the correct dosage of their insulin injections at the right times.
Care workers who work in the area of elderly care are more likely to come into contact with those affected by type 2 diabetes. Inactivity through age can increase the chances of becoming type 2 diabetic, and how well they manage their symptoms typically varies from person to person. The symptoms associated with diabetes can make managing the condition difficult, especially when coupled with other conditions affected by age.
Caring for an elder with diabetes will require knowledge of any other medical conditions they suffer from. People living with Alzheimer’s disease may forget to take their medication, and those suffering from the retinal damage that can be caused by diabetes might struggle to find medication.
Understanding the symptoms of high and low blood pressure is very important since they can cause issues that can be confused with other conditions or may not be instantly recognisable.
The most important thing to do when caring for someone with diabetes is to be prepared to recognise when they are suffering a hypo. A hypo is short for hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia. These are conditions diabetics suffer when at low or high levels respectively.
The symptoms of hypoglycemia include hunger, fatigue, dizziness, sweating, convulsions, and in extreme cases comas and death. Mild cases of hypoglycemia can be treated easily by feeding the diabetic 15-20g of fast-acting carbohydrates. These include glucose tablets, fruit juice, or sugary sweets and drinks. Take a blood test 20 minutes later to see if blood levels have stabilised and, in cases where there are seizures for longer than 5 minutes, or there is a loss of consciousness, an ambulance should be called as soon as possible.
Hyperglycemia occurs when blood sugar levels rise too high, typically because the body has built up a resistance to insulin or the cells producing it has been killed off by the diabetes. Frequent urination and increased hunger and thirst are the main symptoms of hyperglycemia, but complaints such as weakness, weight loss, and vision blurring are associated with it too.
If levels remain high too long, it can cause several health complications such as DKA, a condition caused by the body needing to break down fat, leading to diabetic comas, and hyperosmolar hyperglycemic state (HHS is severe dehydration from trying to break down sugar). In such cases, you should call an ambulance for assistance.
Reducing the patient's blood sugar levels can be achieved through lowering the dosage of insulin, changing their diet (though this should be done slowly, preferably over a couple of weeks), doing regular, gentle exercise, and drinking plenty of sugar-free fluids.
Diabetic patient care training courses
At Flexebee, we offer a Diabetes Awareness training course for carers and patients that explains all aspects of the illness. It discusses:
- Causes of diabetes
- Diabetes symptoms
- Difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes
- Diabetic patient care plans
- Diabetes treatment
- Hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar)
- Hyperglycaemia (high blood sugar)
- How insulin is produced
- Inherited diabetes predisposition
- Diet for diabetic patients
- How to monitor diabetes
- Diabetic complications and risk factors
To supplement this course we also offer a Medication Awareness e-learning course that discusses medication administration techniques as well as a Medication Advanced course for those interested in medication management and the control and administration of medicines.
Further reading on diabetic patient care:
Diabetes.co.uk contains a wealth of information about anything relating to diabetes. They also have a forum with which to connect with other people suffering from diabetes.