Parents often have a hard time getting organized — and that task becomes even harder when you have a child with type 1 diabetes. Certified professional organizer Julie Bestry, who also happens to have diabetes herself, feels your pain. She has helped many clients organize diabetes supplies as part of creating streamlined, healthy lifestyles. Here are Bestry’s top tips:
- Create a central “health headquarters,” such as a deep drawer or cabinet, preferably in the kitchen. To make the location a source of empowerment, help your child come up with a name that reflects something he or she enjoys, like the stadium in which a beloved sports team plays or a location in your child’s favorite book or TV show (such as “Waverly Place”). Make sure the family knows the space is sacred — for diabetes supplies only! (If you have small children in the home, make sure the space is childproofed as well.)
- Use drawer dividers to create specific subsections for each category: items for low blood sugar (glucose tablets or gel tubes, restaurant-size honey packets, 4-ounce fruit juice boxes, mini raisin boxes, jelly beans, and treatment for severe low blood sugar), testing (meter, test strips, control solution, lancets, ketone testing supplies, and a blood sugar diary), and treatment (insulin, insulin pens, alcohol wipes, syringes, pen needles, and pump supplies). Note: Insulin vials and pens generally need to be kept in the refrigerator prior to first use. Keep them in a separate plastic food-storage container with a brightly colored lid so you can spot it quickly and easily. Always keep the container in the same place in your fridge. Be sure to check the manufacturer’s instructions for all your diabetes supplies regarding storage and disposal information.
- Write out an instruction sheet regarding testing procedures, blood sugar targets and how to treat hypoglycemia. Include the contact names and numbers for the pediatrician, endocrinologist and pharmacy. Laminate the instruction sheet (copy shops will do it for you, or you can buy laminate sheets at office supply stores) and keep it in the “health headquarters” area. Post it on the inside of a cabinet door or atop the supplies in a drawer, like a dust cover. Make sure grandparents, babysitters and other caregivers are familiar with it.
- Make two portable diabetes toolkits with essential on-the-go supplies like meters, test strips, insulin, treatment for severe low blood sugar, alcohol wipes and emergency food items in case of hypoglycemia. (Online drugstores and diabetes supply websites stock attractive cases with elastic loops for holding supplies in place.) Use one as your go-to toolkit and the second as backup if the main kit gets left behind or misplaced. Label the inside of the kit with your child’s name and emergency contact numbers, and create an index card-sized packing list. Once your children have mastered the skills for self-testing, they should carry their own meters and test strips. Make sure the school nurse has a kit labeled with your child’s name. Teenagers should carry their own treatment supplies in their toolkits as well.
- Create healthy snack centers in your kitchen. One way to help your child stay within the right carbohydrate range is to have prepackaged single-serving snacks available. To save money and give you more options, invest in lots of plastic zipper bags; when you get home from the grocery store with full-sized bags of healthy snack items and treats, identify how much is in a serving size and create your own one-serving bags. Maintain one kitchen drawer for these snacks, and keep a large food storage container (without a lid) in the fridge for pudding packs, mini-juice containers and other treats that your children can access on their own.
- Set cellphone alarms to remind you and your child when it’s time to test, inject, and eat. Another option is a medicine alarm watch designed especially for children.
- Use your planner to keep track of doctor’s appointments and pharmacy refills, says Priscilla Williams, R.N., whose 12-year-old son Donyall was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 3. Consider going digital — maintain an online-synced calendar with mobile access. Set calendar alerts to notify you and your child via cellphone the day before and hour before any medical appointments, as well as when it’s time to reorder supplies. (You can also use a pharmacy that provides automatic refills.)
- If you don’t use digital planning, set a cellphone alarm at the same time each evening to review the next day’s calendar and add appointments to the schedule. Even if your children are too young to maintain their own calendars, keep them involved in the process to help them develop skills and responsibility. (For older kids and teens, phone apps or shared calendars are useful as well in setting up text reminders to test or bolus, adds Lauren Woodward Tolle, Ph.D., coauthor of a workbook for teens with type 1 diabetes.)
- Keep backup batteries for blood sugar testing meters and insulin pumps in your purse or briefcase, your child’s backpack, and any overnight bag you or your child uses.
- Make sure your child always has a few dollars tucked away (or safety-pinned to an inside jacket pocket) in case he or she loses the toolkit and needs to buy food to raise blood sugar quickly.
By following Bestry’s tips, you can be more organized — and less stressed — in no time!
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.