When you have a child with type 1 diabetes, it’s easy to become so focused on his or her diabetes maintenance that you overlook other areas of your children’s health — and your own. But families of people with type 1 diabetes owe it to themselves and each other to take as good care of each person’s wellness as possible. “Children with type 1 diabetes have more difficulty with sugar management in the face of illness, so keeping the whole family healthy is a great way to help that child,” says family physician and mother of four, Deborah Gilboa, M.D. “Additionally, the stress of caring for someone with a serious chronic illness can make adults more vulnerable to many diseases, such as high blood pressure and heart disease.” Luckily, those same habits you’ve adopted to care for your child’s type 1 can actually yield benefits when applied to the rest of your brood. Here’s how:
Habit 1: Tracking Nutrition and Exercise
“It can get overwhelming to think about grams of carbs and ‘diabetes eating,’ but if everyone learns to be conscientious about carbs and fats as well as protein, then the child with type 1 will feel less different, and everyone will build healthy habits. Also, keep moving and make walking even moderate distances a part of each day. Lastly, remember that stress has a negative physical effect, so make sure that everyone in the family learns what works to bust stress for themselves. Cortisol levels rise with stress, so anything that relieves it — from pillow fights (a.k.a. physical activity) to brain relaxers like puzzles or even a hot bath — may help bring those cortisol levels back down and help protect the immune system from colds and other illnesses.”
Habit 2: Seeing the Doctor Regularly
“Everyone in the family over the age of 5 should see a doctor once a year. Going to the doctor when you’re well provides time for all the health maintenance that you and the doctor don’t have time for during a “sick visit.” For adults as well as kids, doctors need time to ask you about your healthy and risky behaviors and to give counsel about how to live a healthy lifestyle. If women see an OB/GYN once a year for a women’s health visit, they should still have a family or internal medicine doctor that they see annually as well. As OB/GYNs will tell you, their work is specific and often does not include checking blood work for cholesterol or keeping adults updated on immunizations.”
Habit 3: Being Diligent About Meds
“Flu shots as well as a host of immunizations can prevent lost days due to illness and in some cases can protect you and your family from hospitalization.”
Habit 4: Paying Attention When Something Seems “Off”
“It’s best if your family physician and/or pediatrician get to know each family member well, as that will build an ongoing relationship. That way, when there is a health problem, you’ll have a friend and advocate who cares for you. He or she can give you anticipatory guidance on discipline, behavior, and stress management (for both the parents and the child), as well as talk to all of you about handling the issues that arise for many kids with life-threatening chronic illnesses, like medicine or test refusal, and how to handle pubertal and body image issues such as wanting to be just like all of one’s friends. The doctor can also be diligent about monitoring your children’s developmental milestones, immunizations, school success and risky behaviors.”
With so many healthy habits already ingrained in your routine, you’ve got a head start to help keep the whole family in top shape!
Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the “typical” experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring.