For some people, living with diabetes may at times feel like a full-time job. And no wonder. The American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE) recommends seven self-care behaviors to learn and hone as part of one’s diabetes management plan: eating healthfully; staying active; monitoring blood sugar; taking prescribed medications; solving problems; preventive care; and developing ways to cope.

For people living with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, the timing and impact of meals, physical activity, diabetes medications, and even sleep may have an effect on blood sugar levels. Read on for some tips to help optimize your diabetes care routine. (Be sure to talk with your doctor about any changes to a meal plan, exercise regimen or treatment schedule.)

Organizing your supplies

A first step toward establishing a routine may be to get organized. Consider the following:

Diabetes supplies. Strips, lancets, medications and needles should be stored in a single, easily accessible see-through box or other container. Keep items closest to expiration at the front, for first use, and be sure that medications are stored according to the instructions. (Read more about storing and disposing of diabetes supplies.)

Diabetes-friendly snacks. Prepare snacks in advance and keep in two containers: one in the refrigerator for perishables, one on an easily accessible shelf, for nuts or other dry goods. To keep family members from depleting your supplies, mark the containers or otherwise let others know that they belong to you. (Get more tips for stocking up.)

Medical information. Organize paper documents into binders. Upload doctor contact info, medication list and other medical information online and onto a USB drive labeled “Medical Info” that you can keep on your keyring. In an emergency, your keyring can be given to a health provider for easy access to your information. Keep a list of questions you have about your diet, fitness routine, medical care, insurance billing, and related concerns to bring with you to your healthcare appointments.

Exercise info and supplies. Keep your workout clothes in a special drawer along with a duffel bag and lock, if you use a gym. To keep you motivated and on track, find a friend to walk, attend an exercise class, or exercise at home with you, or set up a regular time to check in with each other via phone, text or email to confirm that you both were physically active that day. Consider getting an exercise tracker to keep you active throughout the day. (Be sure to check with your doctor before making any changes to your exercise routine.)

Getting trained in diabetes self-management

You might consider enrolling in diabetes self-management training and education (DSMT/E). DSME/T may involve one or more members of a person’s primary or extended diabetes care teams, and is an ongoing process to help people living with diabetes develop the skills and knowledge to manage their disease and put together a management plan that works with an individual’s particular situation.

DSMT/E provides basic information about diabetes and may also include instruction on how to take medications, how to track blood glucose levels, techniques for stress management, exercise tips and learning to design meal plans and count carbohydrates as part of making more healthful nutrition and lifestyle choices. The training may be partly or wholly covered by health insurance, including Medicare. (Read more about DSMT/E.)

Janis Roszler, a CDE© and the AADE’s 2008-09 Diabetes Educator of the Year, suggests that enlisting others may further help ensure that a scheduled blood sugar check doesn’t get forgotten. “Work out a buddy system with a friend – they don’t have to have diabetes, but if they’re also on a meal plan, or taking medications regularly, it can help both parties stay on track if there’s a plan to call in and check with each other,” she says.

Roszler also recommends thinking of diabetes-related tasks as “appointments.” She suggests using a calendar, a scheduling book, or smartphone alarm to help remember tasks. “Just as you wouldn’t miss a medical appointment with your doctor or dentist, you shouldn’t miss an appointment with yourself,” she says. Scheduling and keeping regular appointments may be key for anything that should be done at the same time every day, such as taking certain medications.

What if you’re having an “off” day?

Diabetes is complicated. It may also be unpredictable. Despite a person’s best efforts to help ensure their blood sugar levels remain within target, there may be a day or two when those levels go low or high for reasons one may not be able to pinpoint.

There may also be unexpected changes to one’s daily routine that keep a person from regularly checking their levels throughout the day – including how much stress they are experiencing, whether they slept their usual amount, had time for regular physical activity, are sticking to their daily diabetes meal plan, or other factors.

When something out of the ordinary happens, having alternative plans can help put you back on track. “I tell my clients to ask their doctor what to do if they go high or low, or have some other unexpected issue come up,” says Roszler.

However, there is a difference between having an off day or two and recognizing an ongoing pattern. If a person is noticing repeated situations – always going low in the afternoon, for instance – then they should talk to their care team to figure out what part of their plan might be tweaked, says Roszler. “ I suggest to my clients that, rather than blaming themselves, they try instead to respond to an unusual situation in a way that allows them to move forward.”

(Get a discussion guide and tips for preparing for your next visit with your doctor.)

“Sometimes diabetes seems to have a mind of its own,” says Roszler. Just because a person does everything by the book and as their doctor recommends, that does not mean their diabetes will agree, she explains. “At a certain point, you have to cut yourself some slack and be good to yourself. Perfection does not exist in diabetes care. When a person can forgive him- or herself, they may address any underlying issues more effectively.”

All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.

*“Certified Diabetes Educator” and “CDE” are certification marks owned and registered by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE). NCBDE is not affiliated in any way with Sanofi US. NCBDE does not sponsor or endorse any diabetes-related products or services.

© 2016 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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