While there’s a lot to love about living alone (like not having to share the TV remote or the bedcovers!) the flip side for those with diabetes is the lack of day-to-day support in managing a complex condition. Diabetes educator Jayne Lehmann shares her strategies for keeping your emotional and physical health on track, from planning solo meals to reducing your risk of burnout.
1. Get organised with appointments
You may be living alone, but you are not alone when it comes to managing your diabetes. Your care team is there to help, so get the most from their expertise and stay on top of your health by checking in with them regularly. At the beginning of each year, write a care list that includes regular appointments with your GP, endocrinologist, diabetes educator, podiatrist and dietitian. Also slot in eye checks every year or two, an annual flu injection and blood tests every three to six months. Remember that you can claim five referrals through your GP Management Plan. Make as many appointments as you can ahead of time – try to arrange several on the same day. Write your appointments in your diary straight away and add a reminder to your phone, too.
2. Find healthy meal shortcuts
When you’re living alone, it can be difficult to feel motivated to cook for yourself. If you’re used to cooking for more than one, it may also be a challenge to scale back meal quantities, or, if you’re new to cooking, to figure out carb serving sizes and balanced menus. Never fear! These simple tips will help you feel satisfied, keep your blood glucose levels on track and leave your wallet in better shape, too:
● Plan a week’s worth of meals in advance and shop to a list to avoid reaching for the takeaway menu too frequently – our Menu Planner on page 84 can help. Remember not to hit the shops when you’re hungry, as you’re more likely to be tempted by high-fat, sugary foods when
your tummy is growling.
● Make extra when you’re cooking freezable meals such as casseroles, tomato-based pasta sauces and soups. A healthy frozen meal is a good standby when you’re too tired to cook.
● Buy frozen vegetables – they have the same nutritional value as fresh vegies, but are cheaper, can be stored for longer and are easy to portion into smaller serves. Canned legumes such as chickpeas are also a filling and wallet-friendly way of bulking up meals.
● Enrol in a cooking class at your local community centre or TAFE if you’re just starting to cook for yourself or you’re keen to brush up on your skills.
3. Beat burnout
The daily tracking of food and blood glucose, as well as the constant pressure to fit in exercise, manage stress and stay on top of medical appointments can all lead to periods of diabetes burnout. This is especially true when you live on your own, as everything relies on you and it is easy to become overwhelmed. When you are feeling overburdened, don’t stay quiet about it – talk to someone you know and trust, such as your diabetes educator. They understand the pressures of diabetes management and will be able to arm you with helpful coping skills. You could also consider joining a support group, either online or at your local community centre or hospital. Speak to your GP about a referral to a psychologist if you need a little extra one-on-one support. You should be able to claim some of it through Medicare.
4. Keep track of your health
Regular monitoring of your blood glucose levels is especially important when you live alone, as experiencing hypoglycaemia (low blood glucose) while you’re on your own can be dangerous. Make blood glucose checks part of your routine – try checking before and two hours after each meal. That way, you’ll be able to see if you’re at risk of lows or highs, and get back on track faster. If you’re new to living alone, speak with your care team about your target levels – they may need to be set a little higher to give you a bit more wiggle room. Monitor your blood glucose levels more frequently when you’re feeling unwell and don’t hesitate to bring in a locum doctor if you think you’re in need of a house call. It’s also important to stay on top of other health checks. In addition to monitoring your moles and performing self breast checks, make sure you keep a close eye on your feet, too. At least half of all people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes will develop diabetic neuropathy or nerve damage. It can lead to
a loss of sensation in your feet and increases your likelihood of developing infections, which may then take a long time to heal. Examine your feet daily for signs of damage.
By Jayne Lehmann