Managing Type 2 Diabetes: How to Help an Older Adult Deal With Denial and Depression

It's not unusual for an older adult to react to a diabetes diagnosis with denial and depression. A person's attitude toward his diagnosis -- whether he views it as a challenging opportunity to care for his body or something that's best ignored -- can have a huge impact on how successfully he manages this chronic condition.

You'll want to strike a delicate balance between listening empathetically to a litany of complaints about coping with diabetes and helping him stay focused on finding the positives in a situation strewn with potential negatives.

The risks of denial and depression. Left unaddressed, denial and depression can cause the kind of pessimism and despair that leads to failure to eat properly, exercise, or manage vital medications. This can result in a vicious cycle that makes diabetes worse.

The role of isolation . A common problem among older adults, isolation may exacerbate denial and depression. People with diabetes are about twice as likely to be depressed as people without it. But those with diabetes who have a network of friends are less likely to suffer from depression than those without such a safety net.

Signs of depression

  • A loss of interest in activities that previously provided enjoyment.
  • Blood glucose levels that are suddenly and inexplicably worse.
  • Difficulty coping with self-care regimens.
  • Acting more stressed than usual.
  • Excessive sleeping or sleeping problems.
  • Withdrawal from social situations.
  • Loss of appetite or overeating.

How to help overcome denial and depression

Accentuate the positive. Rather than point out the dire consequences if the person in your care doesn't take his diabetes drugs as prescribed, link the medications to something he enjoys. If he's an avid walker, remind him that taking his diabetes pills will allow him to continue taking long hikes for years to come.

Find a support group. Talk with his diabetes educator about locating a support group where he can blow off steam with those who share similar concerns, or look for a group online by searching with the keywords diabetes online support group .

Get a referral. Ask his doctor or another member of his healthcare team for a recommendation to a mental health expert -- a social worker, therapist, or psychologist -- if denial or depression remains a significant problem.

Sarah Henry

Sarah Henry has covered health stories for most of her more than two decades as a writer, from her ten-year stint at the award-winning Center for Investigative Reporting to her staff writer position with Hippocrates magazine to her most recent Web work for online sites, including WebMD, Babycenter. See full bio