Diabetes is a common disease among people with developmental disabilities. It is serious throughout the entire year, but there may be special factors for you to consider during the winter months. By reading this article, you will learn about what diabetes is and how to support individuals during the winter.
What is diabetes?
Our bodies change the food we eat into sugar. Our bodies use this sugar (glucose) to give us energy. Diabetes is a health condition that causes glucose to build up in our blood instead of being used by our bodies. For most people (people without diabetes), the body uses a hormone called insulin to control the amount of sugar that is in our blood. Diabetes happens when the body does not make enough insulin or when the insulin is not working the way it should. This means that people with untreated diabetes cannot use the sugar in their bodies in the correct way and this sugar builds up in their blood.
If a person has untreated diabetes, the level of sugar in his or her blood is too high. Over time, this extra sugar can damage different parts of a person’s body – for instance his or her heart, kidneys, nerves, and eyes. Untreated diabetes can even lead to blindness or needing to have a foot or leg removed.
Is there a cure for diabetes?
No, there is no cure for diabetes. But, even though there is no cure, there are many things that people with diabetes can do to stay healthy and live a long life. As a direct support professional, you can encourage people with diabetes to talk with their doctor about how to stay healthy. You can also learn about diabetes yourself and make sure that the individuals you support follow all of their doctors’ instructions.
How can diabetes be managed?
The key to managing diabetes is keeping the amount of sugar in the bloodstream under control. People with diabetes generally need to be careful about what they eat, monitor the amount of sugar in their blood, and get regular exercise. Some people with diabetes need to take medicines. To control the level of sugar in their blood, you can support people with diabetes to:
- Follow any special diet they may need (ask the person’s doctor what this diet should be).
- Remember when and how to take their medications.
- Test their blood sugar often using a blood glucose monitor (ask the person’s doctor to show you how to use the blood glucose monitor and what the person’s normal blood sugar level should be).
- Choose a physical activity that they enjoy and try to exercise for 30 minutes each day.
What are the issues with diabetes during the winter months?
The winter season can bring certain problems in managing diabetes. The cold weather and winter holidays can cause:
- More colds and flu.
- Changes in people’s diet and exercise plans.
- Changes in blood sugar.
- More stress.
How can I help the people I support manage their diabetes in the winter?
There are many things you can do to support people with diabetes during the winter:
The winter months can be cold, even in California.
- Remind individuals to dress warmly in cold weather.
- If the weather is cold, you and those you support should bundle up and wear layers.
- Individuals with diabetes can have circulation problems, so it is especially important that they keep their feet warm.
Dry skin and eyes are common problems during the winter.
- You and those you support can drink lots of water, use moisturizing lotion, or use a humidifier to prevent dehydration.
The winter season is a common time for respiratory illnesses such as the common cold and the flu.
- You can prevent illnesses among those who you support by reminding individuals to get a flu shot.
- You can also encourage hand washing among people with developmental disabilities, families, and direct support professionals.
Holiday treats and get-togethers can make it easy for everybody – people with and without diabetes – to stray from their diet plans.
- In general, people with diabetes should avoid candies and fatty foods and try to eat more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat milk products. You can help the individuals who you support to find ways to enjoy the season’s goodies and still stay on their diets.
- Find healthier alternatives to holiday treats – like sugar-free candies and cookies.
- Remind individuals to use alcohol in moderation – even at holiday parties.
- Encourage individuals to stick to their diet plan and remind them why following it is an important way to stay healthy.
Cold and rainy winter weather can also make it difficult to follow a regular exercise plan.
- Support individuals to find fun ways to exercise in the winter.
- Look for indoor exercise groups, like a dance or aerobics class.
- Encourage people to stretch while doing things indoors – like watching TV, listening to music, or talking on the phone.
Changes in the weather can cause changes in blood sugar.
- Remind people with diabetes to test their blood sugar regularly and talk to their doctor if their blood sugar levels are changing or are too high or low.
The holiday season can be a busy and stressful time.
- You can support people to stay healthy and stress-free by promoting a lifestyle of healthy eating and staying active, encouraging them to be involved in their communities, and being available to listen to individuals talk openly about things that are causing them stress or worry.
Are there materials that I can use to teach those I support about diabetes?
Check out this DDS SafetyNet presentation about diabetes.
Also, check out these resources on the DDS SafetyNet.
- Preventing and Managing Diabetes
- Managing Diabetes with Proper Nutrition
- Diabetes and Your Blood Sugar
Finally, you can ask a health care professional or your local Regional Center if they have materials that you can use to teach people with developmental disabilities about diabetes.
Where can I go to learn more?
The best way to learn more is by talking to a doctor. You can also check out these resources on the internet: