Supporting Someone With Diabetes

Do's and Don'ts

If you know or love someone who has diabetes, it's important to show your support in a way that is not judgmental or critical. Despite our good intentions, sometimes our actions or comments can make living with diabetes more difficult.

One in 10 people in the United States. (34.2 million or 10.5% of the population) have diabetes, and 88 million people are at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. More children and adolescents are also being diagnosed with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes than ever before.

With statistics like these and projected prevalence estimates of 25%–28% by 2050, the odds are that you will know someone with diabetes in your lifetime.

How to Best Support Someone with Diabetes

Verywell / Danie Drankwalter

Diabetes can be burdensome. Daily self-management tasks are required to control the disease, making a diagnosis overwhelming. Daily blood sugar tests, medication requirements, analyzing data, understanding the interconnection of nutrition, hormones, stress, and exercise are just some of the ways to control blood sugar.

As if the daily tasks aren't enough, people with diabetes are often exposed to diabetes myths, insensitive healthcare professionals, stereotypes, inaccurate information, and sharing of horror stories.

In this article, you will find some of the best ways to support someone with diabetes. You will also learn what you should avoid doing that can be harmful.

Get Educated

Understanding fact vs. myth is important when supporting someone with diabetes. There are many misconceptions about diabetes and diabetes care. For example, common myths include, "People with diabetes can't eat carbohydrates" or "Eating too much sugar causes diabetes." These things are simply not true.

Blaming someone with diabetes for their condition can cause more harm than good. There is no one-size-fits-all plan to diabetes management. Therefore, it's important to consider the whole person when discussing treatment plans.

Registered dietitian nutritionist Mary Ellen Phipps, who is living with type 1 diabetes and is the author of "The Easy Diabetes Cookbook," tells Verywell, "When loved ones take the time and effort to learn about the disease, and specifically understand nutrition recommendations, carbohydrate counting, etc., it is not only super helpful but also incredibly encouraging to people with diabetes."

Go to Appointments and Ask Questions

A great way to get educated is to accompany the person you are supporting to their medical appointments. Make a list and ask questions. This will be especially important if you are caring for a minor or an older person with diabetes.

Topics on diabetes self-management education include, but are not limited to, exercise, nutrition, blood sugar management, medication administration, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), and how to deal with illness.

Search for Credible Information

When looking for information, you want to ensure that the information you are receiving is credible.

Organizations such as the American Diabetes Association (ADA), the Association of Diabetes and Education Specialists (ADCES), the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), and the Diabetes Research Institute Foundation (DRIF) have digestible content that is scientific and reliable.

If you are cruising the Internet and come across other diabetes-related information, make sure it is written by a credentialed professional, such as a registered dietitian (RD), registered nurse (RN), pharmacist, or certified diabetes care and education specialist (CDCES).

In addition, when searching for a medical team, look for one that has an accredited program and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialists on staff. The ADA and ADCES provide accreditation for diabetes education programs. To become an accredited program, organizations must meet rigorous criteria set by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Support a Diabetes Charity or Organization

Taking charge of a diagnosis can often mean finding meaning and purpose in it. Getting involved in organizations that support people with diabetes allows you to work towards the same cause. It increases your power and allows you to gain the courage to face your fears.

Supporting diabetes organizations, whether financially, as a contributor to education or research, or by volunteering, can also be extremely helpful in coping with the disease. Whether the person you are supporting has been recently diagnosed or has had diabetes for a long time, you can find ways to give back and provide support on a larger level.

Find a Hobby That Is Not Diabetes Related

It's easy to get caught up in the day-to-day management and unknowingly become an overly persistent source of annoyance by repeating such questions as: What did you eat today? Did you check your blood sugar? Did you take your medicine?

Although these questions seem harmless and are often necessary (especially when caring for a child with diabetes), they are a constant reminder to the person that they have a diabetes diagnosis. Some days it can be nice to take a break from all the questions and take the attention away from the condition.

Consider starting a hobby with the person with diabetes that has nothing to do with diabetes. It can be anything you enjoy doing—fishing, bowling, art, crafts, music, knitting, puzzles, whatever you like. Do it together and make it a routine. You'll find other ways to bond and take some needed downtime.

Listen Actively

Wherever someone is in their diabetes journey, they can face hurdles. And it can be hard to watch them struggle. Perhaps they are struggling with meal planning or are having difficulty accepting their diagnosis.

One way to assist them through hurdles is to let them know that it is OK to ask for help and that you are there to listen to them in a non-judgmental way.

"Seek to understand how someone with diabetes is feeling and don't judge their actions. Until you've walked the journey of diabetes yourself, it's impossible to understand the burden that comes with it," says Phipps.

Sometimes people with diabetes want to talk to someone who gets it personally. You can try to seek support for them through a mentor program or provide them with an inspirational diabetes book about someone who is managing their disease in a positive way. Consider a book for inspiration such as "Type 1 Determination" by Lauren Plunkett.

If they need assistance in areas that you cannot help them with and you are feeling helpless, it is important that you also receive help. Seek out help from your medical team or search for a mental health professional for emotional support.

Things You Should Avoid

Insensitive language isn't helpful. Words can get interpreted differently by different people. People with diabetes are not defined by their disease. They should not be referred to as "diabetic" nor be placed under the microscope while eating.

Because food can directly impact diabetes, it's easy to question choices. This can be harmful. Phipps warns, "Don't be the food police, and don't constantly question their choices. I think what is far more helpful and effective is to ask questions. Ask them why they're doing something and how you can help."

Summary

When you know or live with a person with diabetes, it is important to support them in ways that are positive. Listen actively to their concerns and needs. Avoid insensitive language and questioning their food choices. Join in a hobby that is not related to their condition. Find ways to get accurate and credible information on the condition and get involved in the diabetes community.

A Word From Verywell

Supporting someone with diabetes can be different depending on what the person you are supporting needs. If you are supporting a child who is newly diagnosed, their needs will vary because of their limited understanding of their condition. Adults with diabetes may need help getting motivated, understanding difficult medical information, assisting at medical appointments, or meal planning.

Whatever the person you are supporting needs, it's best to assist them in an empathetic, nonjudgmental way.

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2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National diabetes statistics report. Updated August 28, 2020.

  2. Lawrence JM, Divers J, Isom S, et al. Trends in prevalence of type 1 and type 2 diabetes in children and adolescents in the US, 2001-2017. JAMA. 2021;326(8):717-727. doi:10.1001/jama.2021.11165