The best way to help your patients with diabetes is to educate them. You can do this by explaining the disease and how it affects the patient’s body, encouraging them to learn about nutrition and diabetes with a registered dietician, teaching them about hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), and helping them set realistic goals for controlling their blood sugar.
Explain the disease and how it affects the patient’s body.
Diabetes is a disease that affects the body’s ability to produce and use insulin. Diabetes causes high blood sugar (glucose) levels. High blood glucose can cause heart disease, stroke, blindness, and kidney failure if not treated properly.
If you have diabetes, you need to work closely with your healthcare provider to treat your condition so it doesn’t lead to serious health problems like these later on.
Diabetes is categorized into two types: type 1 and type 2. In type 1 diabetes (previously called juvenile or insulin-dependent diabetes), the pancreas stops producing enough insulin—a condition known as “insulin deficiency.” People with type 1 need to take shots of synthetic insulin several times a day to function normally.
In type 2 diabetes (previously called adult-onset or non-insulin dependent diabetes), the body either doesn’t produce enough insulin or can’t use it properly. This condition is called “insulin resistance.” People who have type 2 diabetes are often able to control their blood glucose with diet and exercise alone.
Encourage the patient to learn about nutrition and diabetes with a registered dietician.
A registered dietician can help the patient understand how to eat healthily. What food should a person with diabetes eat, and what can they avoid? How many grams of carbohydrates are in different foods? Sample meal plans can be used as a guide for making healthy choices.
When a doctor or dietician is unavailable, you can take several steps to help a person with diabetes eat healthily. These include:
- Reading food labels to determine the number of carbohydrates in each serving and how many servings are included in the package.
- Learning about foods that contain carbohydrates, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
- Discussing all medications with your physician, including over-the-counter drugs and vitamins.
Teach the patient about hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and hyperglycemia (high blood sugar).
Give the patient a glucose meter and explain how to use it. (If the patient has an insulin pump, you should teach him how to check his blood sugar with the pump.)
Explain how to test blood sugar levels with a glucose meter. Take a pea-sized amount of blood from your finger and place it on a test strip in the machine. Keep one end of the strip in contact with your sample while reading levels on your monitor screen; remove it before testing another area. If your blood sugar levels are too high, eat something with carbohydrates or drink sugar-free juice. If your sugar levels are too low, eat a small meal that contains protein and fat.
Call your doctor if you have questions about how to use your glucose meter or if the readings are inconsistent with what you expect.
Help the patient set realistic goals for controlling their blood sugar.
Once you understand what your patient needs to know about diabetes and the tools available to help them manage the disease, it’s time to provide them with more specific strategies and ideas for improving their health. The best way to do this is by setting realistic goals for controlling blood sugar levels.
Let’s say a patient has been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and wants to control his glucose levels through dietary changes and medication. He would probably be thrilled if he could lose 20 pounds to reduce his risk of complications from high blood pressure or heart disease. However, if he weighs over 300 pounds (136 kilograms), it might not be realistic for him to lose 20 pounds (9 kilograms). Setting a goal like this will only set up disappointment in both parties: Your patients should feel supported in their efforts; they don’t want any “attaboys” given out without genuine effort on their part.
Use these strategies to help teach your patients about diabetes.
You can help your patients with diabetes by teaching them about the disease, how to manage it, and prevent complications. Here are some strategies that may help:
- Teach the patient about diabetes—the causes of type 1 and 2, signs and symptoms, treatment options, medications, and lifestyle changes needed for management.
- Help the patient make lifestyle changes to prevent complications—weight loss for overweight or obese patients; eating a healthier diet; decreasing alcohol intake; quitting smoking; regular physical activity; maintaining hygiene (oral care) at home or in a nursing home setting.
- Teach youth how to manage their condition as they transition into adulthood—how much insulin they need based on their activity level throughout the day or night; when to eat healthy meals or snacks if hungry between meals so blood sugar does not drop too low (hypoglycemia); when to test for high blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia).
The best way to prevent diabetes complications is by giving Diabetes education to your patients. The more they know about their disease and how it can affect them, the better equipped they’ll be to manage it properly. These tips should help you get started on your education programs. If you got any other questions or need more information on this topic, don’t hesitate to reach out!