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Diabetes Can Strain Relationships but Physicians Can Help

Family members of diabetics can be stressed by worry, wondering what to do about a hypoglycemic attack or fretting over the patient's job security. A new study looks at the impact of diabetes on these caregivers.

Studies have shown how the support of family members plays a role in outcomes for adults with diabetes. But how does living with or caring for someone with diabetes affect the family members?

To better understand the experiences and unmet needs of these families, an international team of researchers led by Heather Stuckey, D.Ed., assistant professor at Penn State College of Medicine in Harrisburg, PA, surveyed more than 2,057 adult families in which an adult member had diabetes.

The participants were registered with the second Diabetes Attitudes, Wishes, and Needs (DAWN2) study, a large-scale survey of family members of adults with diabetes in 17 countries. Participants responded via email, phone, and in person to open-ended questions about how living with a person with diabetes has impacted them and the ways they choose to be involved with that person’s care.

Overall, they found that having a family member with diabetes causes worry and can strain relationships for many of the respondents. They worry about issues like hypoglycemic attacks and job insecurity related to the illness. Although this group does believe support exists to deal with burdens and lifestyle changes necessitated by diabetes, many expressed a desire for more help. On the positive side, family members were inspired by their loved one with diabetes to make positive changes in their own lives, such as eating better and exercising.

"This research reveals the nature and extent of what it's like to live with a person with diabetes," said Stuckey. "The biggest challenge we identified for family members is that there's a constant worry about the person. It's in the background like an app that's always running."

She hopes these findings will support changes in health care policy. "For instance, in the U.S., we hope that the importance of including family members in educational sessions will be recognized and will be covered by medical insurance. This can help family members feel more informed and closer to their loved one who is living with diabetes,” she said.

In the absence of significant changes to the system, she recommends physicians will invite family members to come along to medical visits to learn more and find more support as a caregiver.

This study appeared in the June 2016 issue of Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice.

DAWN2 is a global partnership between the International Diabetes Federation in Brussels, the International Alliance of Patients’ Organizations in London, the Steno Diabetes Center in Gentofte, Denmark, and Novo Nordisk.