The Grandparent’s Guide to T1D
Editor’s Note: This content is a part of Beyond Type 1’s guidebook, which includes guides for everyone who has a type 1 in their life. Check out the rest of our customized guides for the different people in your life here!
The greatest gift that a grandparent can give to their type 1 grandchild is support. Support can come in a variety of ways. Of course, one of these is knowing the medical terminology and making sure that you can help in any situation that occurs. The emotional side is also a crucial part of your relationship with your type 1 loved one. To help your grandchild with type 1 diabetes (T1D), you can use your heart as well as your head.
Support your child, the caretaker
First, be a strong support system for your own child, the parent of your type 1 grandchild. Trust that you have raised them with the strength and responsibility to be the best caretaker for your grandchild. Having a child with type 1 can be overwhelming, and parents need comfort and a helping hand. A simple letting them know that you are there can make a big difference. If you feel comfortable enough, ask how you can help out. Whether or not you are helping in your grandchild’s care, it’s important to know a few things about type 1 and what your child and grandchild are going through.
What is Type 1 diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that affects a person’s pancreas. The pancreas is responsible for producing insulin, a hormone people need to get energy from food. Your grandchild’s pancreas, for reasons that have not been identified, does not produce any insulin. As a result, he or she needs to …
- Receive insulin (by injections or continually through a pump)
- Balance insulin doses with eating and daily activities
- Regularly monitor blood-sugar levels
- Type 1 diabetes is not the same as type 2 diabetes, which you may have seen or heard a lot about.
- The amount of diabetes-related information on the internet is overwhelming, and can sometimes be false or inaccurate. The caretakers of your grandchild would be the best people to ask about treatment and routines. You can also talk to your grandchild’s medical team for initial training and references to online data.
Know the lingo
You may not be the person administering treatment to your grandchild, but it is helpful to know the language around diabetes. This shows that you care and you genuinely mean it when you say you’d like to learn more. It also creates a basis for future conversations and can open all kinds of doors to your child and grandchild.
Here are some of the basic terms to know:
Blood glucose – also known as BG, blood glucose is the amount of glucose/ sugar in the blood. Non-diabetics run around a steady 5.0 mmol/L90 mg/dL. People with type 1 diabetes try to stay above 70 and under a number determined by their doctor.
Check your BG/ Do a check/ Take a BG: to use a blood glucose meter and a lancing device to draw a drop of blood and test it for sugar content. People with type 1 diabetes must do this regularly to see if their blood sugar is in range.
Hypoglycemia – also referred to as “hypo,” or “low,” hypoglycemia occurs when the body does not have enough sugar to function properly. Your grandchild needs fast acting sugar.
Hyperglycemia – also referred to as “high,” hyperglycemia occurs when there is too much sugar in the blood. Your grandchild needs insulin.
Glucagon – an emergency treatment that is either given nasally with BAQSIMI, or via a shot of a Glucagon kit. It is given to people with type 1 diabetes (usually when they are so low that they cannot swallow) that provides “instant sugar” to the body.
Insulin – the hormone that our bodies make to turn food into energy. People with type1 diabetes don’t make insulin. They must inject it to metabolize their food.
Carb count – (short for “carbohydrate count”) the number of carbohydrates in a given serving of food. Knowing carb counts is essential; people with type 1 diabetes inject a certain amount of insulin for the all of carbs they eat.
Know the devices
Meter – A blood glucose meter (also known as a “glucometer”). Meters are used to test blood and come with a lancing device to prick a finger.
CGM – CGM stands for continuous glucose monitor. This device is attached to the body and monitors blood sugar on a 24 hour basis, and indicates trends.
Insulin Pump – This device is attached to the body and constantly delivers insulin to its wearer.
How might Type 1 affect your grandchild’s mood?
Be aware that your grandchild’s mood might be affected by blood sugar levels, high or low. Your grandchild may suddenly be uncharacteristically stubborn or crabby because his or her blood sugar is out of range. Here are the symptoms of “highs” and “lows” to recognize—
- High symptoms: nausea, deep sighing breaths, confusion, flushed and warm skin, drowsiness, irritated
- Low symptoms: shaky, pale and sweaty skin, headache, hunger, weakness, trembling, withdrawn
What can your grandchild eat?
People with type 1 can eat anything that they choose to eat, as long as they correctly dose the amount of insulin needed for the food that is eaten. These decisions can be personal and based on individual experience. Always check with the primary caretaker about what you are planning to serve.
There are many things that affect your grandchild’s blood sugar so paying attention to what’s happened in the past can be helpful. Over indulging your grandchild in sweets or insisting that your grandchild “clean his or her plate” can be harmful to his or her health.
Be aware that a new diagnosis causes changes in a family’s routine, especially around meals. Try to be flexible and patient! Because of new mandatory testing and the need for insulin injections, eating may be delayed and food may be measured for accurate carb counting. While this may seem to take away the fun of a family meal, remember that it is an important part of your grandchild’s type 1 diabetes management and successful care.
What do you do in case of emergency?
In case of an emergency, there are few things to do. If your grandchild is ever passed out or unconscious, immediately call emergency services and react to the situation as if your grandchild were “having a low” or experiencing severe hypoglycemia. If your grandchild is unconscious, you may have to administer emergency glucagon wither using an inhaler-like device to spray into the nostril with BAQSIMI, or via a shot with a Glucagon kit.
If your grandchild is conscious, fast-acting glucose needs to be taken immediately. This means juice boxes, candy, glucose tablets, or any other sugary food or drink that can be consumed easily. Discuss what to do in an emergency with your grandchild’s primary caretaker.
Care taking and treatment plans
If you’d like to watch your grandchild alone, be sure to be familiar with routines and treatment plans as well as what to do in case of an emergency. This should be discussed and practiced with your grandchild’s caretaker until you feel comfortable doing it on your own.
Be certain to have an effective line of communication between the caretaker of your grandchild and yourself such as a landline or cell phone so that you can give updates and reach help if needed.
Ultimately, your grandchild relies on the support of close family as a way to maintain their strength when the going gets tough. Type 1 can sometimes be a roller coaster of highs and lows for your grandchild. So, you can do your part. Be sensitive to dealing with type 1 in public situations and understand the emotional feelings of your grandchild. No matter what your role is in treatment, you will always be instrumental in your grandchild leading a normal, healthy life.
See the rest of our customized guides here.