It’s easy to feel vulnerable when you have diabetes and live alone. I know—I’ve had type 1 diabetes for more than 30 years, and I’ve lived alone for most of that time. Here’s what else I know—taking steps to feel safer, especially in an emergency, can reduce your stress. And when you’re less stressed, your blood glucose levels stay more even.
So here are my favorite tips for living alone with diabetes, excerpted from my new book, 1,137 Secrets for Living Well with Diabetes…
Have a buddy system. You should have someone to check in with every morning. Your buddy doesn’t have to have diabetes—anyone who lives alone and might need help will benefit from this arrangement, and so will you. Your call or text can be brief: “Hi, it’s me. Are you OK? I’m OK. Do you need anything?” What counts is that you and your friend have made sure that each of you is alive and well.
Protect yourself from sharp-edged furniture… Why do we fall against sharp-edged furniture, especially at 3:00 am when our blood glucose is dropping? Because it’s there! How to prevent or minimize those black-and-blue marks and potential fractures? Pad everything! Use folded towels or movers’ pads. Color coordination is an attractive plus, but your real goal is protecting yourself from injury.
…and doorknobs, too. Even though doorknobs are smooth, you still can do yourself major damage if you fall against one in a hypoglycemic swoon, because they are just the right height for you to hit your head against them as you go down for the count. For an easy fix, cover the offending doorknob with bubble wrap and secure it with rubber bands. For a more color-coordinated fix, cover that with an attractive washcloth.
Make blood sugar checkpoints easier with a vibrating watch. Self-care for your diabetes is your responsibility, but living alone makes it that much more important to remember all the checkpoints in your day. A fabulous but subtle helper is a vibrating watch: Rather than sounding an alarm, it gives the wearer an unmistakable (but silent) wake-up or reminder. Unless you’re holding someone’s hand at the moment, the shaking is your own private alert. Originally created for people with hearing loss, a vibrating watch can keep us on schedule, too. Go online and Google “vibrating watch.” You’ll find an extensive assortment of brands and prices to choose from. A smartwatch such as an Apple watch may also have this function.
Post medical emergency information in all the right places. Put this information on two sheets of paper on which you have drawn a big red border and title it MEDICAL EMERGENCY INFORMATION. Write the same information on each of them—your name, medical problems, the drugs you are taking, any allergies or drug reactions, the name and phone number of your contact person—and your blood type if you know it. Stick one of the pages onto the inside of your front door with a magnet, and display the other prominently on your refrigerator door.
Keep a stash of emergency supplies. Between blizzards and hurricanes and anything else that might cause power blackouts, you must keep emergency supplies on hand, especially if you live alone. Besides extra drugs and equipment, you should have extra lightbulbs, several flashlights and lots of extra batteries, a few transistor radios (one may fade out after a week of continuous use), a first-aid kit, at least five gallons of water and lots of candles with sturdy candleholders and matches. Also, keep a week’s supply of canned food that you can eat cold in an emergency. My favorites are mostly 100% protein—chicken breast, salmon and tuna. But I also include some canned ravioli and chili, in case I need some carbohydrates. Make sure you have a hand-operated can opener so that you can get at this food during a power failure!
Don’t miss a step. If your fuse box or circuit breakers are in your basement, paint the edge of every step with luminous white or Day-Glo paint. Then if your power goes out, you’ll manage to get safely down the basement stairs to change the fuse or reset the circuit breakers. And always take a flashlight!
Can’t find the keys? Check your “spot.” One of the toughest aspects of living alone is misplacing something vital. You pretty much need your glasses to find your glasses, and where are you if you can’t find your car keys? Designate a spot in your home—the bottom of your underwear drawer, a kitchen shelf, a table in your front hallway, wherever—to be the “home base” for possessions that you absolutely can’t lose. When your glasses aren’t on the bridge of your nose, they’ll be in your “spot.” When your car keys aren’t in your hand or in the ignition, they’ll be in your “spot.” Be as obsessive and compulsive about this as possible—you’ll never be sorry. You may want another space—near your bed?—for your glucose meter, test strips, lancet and glucose tablets.
Stay motivated with mementos. Living alone means it’s often hard to stay motivated about blood glucose control, keeping your spirits up during downturns in life events and other problems. Keep pictures of pets and loved ones—even portraits or photos of heroes or heroines—around in full view. They can serve as reminders of love and courage during bad or just lonely times. Take strength from the knowledge that others depend on you to do the right thing, and if nobody currently does, then motivate yourself with the knowledge that you’re behaving in ways that would make your heroes proud of you.
Dawdle over dinner. Too many people who live alone race through their meals in front of the TV. Make your dinner last at least 45 minutes. When you slow down, some wonderful things happen: You turn eating into dining, a pleasurable experience….give your body the opportunity to start feeling full, a process that takes 20 to 30 minutes…which means there’s less chance that you’ll mindlessly overeat. Instead of eating while watching TV, listen to music. Slow Baroque and Classical music are especially good.