Caring Currents

Diabetes: Can't Get No Respect -- And Why It Should

Last updated:

July 10, 2008
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How seriously do you take type 2 diabetes? That was the question posed last week by New York Times blogger Tara Parker-Pope in her popular Well column. It's an entirely valid one: The incurable disease, which can wreak havoc from head to toe , isn't considered as serious a health threat as cancer or heart disease, according to results from a recent American Diabetes Association focus group.

Why not? This underrated, insidious, and yes, deadly disorder is the leading cause of blindness, amputations, and kidney failure, a major player in heart attack and stroke, and can affect everything from hearing and vision to sexual and mental health and sleep . Yet many people think it's a minor condition that's easily controlled.

Described by one doctor as the "Rodney Dangerfield of diseases," it can be challenging to find ways to get people to give a damn. This lack of concern is particularly worrisome, considering the condition now affects Americans in record numbers : 24 million people have it, and another 57 million have prediabetes .

But how to get your loved ones on board? Some tips gleaned from the dozens of readers who responded to Parker-Pope's post (and, needless to say, you can send me your personal suggestions):

Take the test: Find out if you or your family are at risk for developing diabetes by taking this quiz .

Reevaluate diet: Eating well, losing weight, and keeping glucose in check go together. Newsflash: Good-for-you food can taste good too. Low-carb diets work for some, not all. Ditto low-protein or mostly vegetarian diets. The key: Find foods that fit your family's individual needs. A diabetes educator or dietician can help.

Get active: It improves mood, waistline, and blood sugar levels. Cuts appetite too.

Consider scare tactics: Gruesome pictures of diabetic foot ulcers. Reminders about blindness. Meeting someone with diabetes-related dementia. Death of a loved one from disease complications. Some say they needed wake-up calls to get with the program. Warning: Proceed with caution, alarmist strategies may backfire.

Rethink the role of medications: Drugs and insulin can help to keep blood sugar under control -- but they're no substitute for a well-balanced diet and an active lifestyle -- both of which can work to ward off disabling complications.

Find ways to help: Family members can lend a hand with diet, exercise, and stress reduction, locating quality medical care, getting loved ones to doctors' appointments, assisting with monitoring blood sugar, offering reminders about medications, or administering insulin. You can help ensure that your loved ones don't have to deal with this disease on their own.

Image by Flickr user ShutterCat7 used under Creative Commons attribution license.