8 Tips for a Safe, Diabetes-Friendly Home
When most people hear the phrase "home safety," they think of smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors. But that definition expands for people with diabetes: Home safety includes taking precautions to make sure you avoid serious emergencies caused by diabetes or a related complication. Here are a few guiding principles that will get you on your way to a safer home environment.
1. Store glucose nearby.
Storing glucose tablets in a kitchen cabinet and juice boxes in the refrigerator is fine, but they shouldn't be your only sources of fast-acting glucose in the house if you use insulin, sulfonylureas, or aren't able to sense low blood sugar (hypoglycemia unawareness). Stock your car, too.
2. Make a medical binder.
In case of severe hypo- or hyperglycemia, friends, family members, and emergency responders will need your health information, and fast. A smart idea: Create a folder or binder with lists of any medical conditions or allergies you have, your medications and dosages, and the names and phone numbers of your health care providers. Be sure to let others know where to find it so they can act quickly during an emergency.
3. Give a lesson on glucagon.
If you become severely hypoglycemic (unconscious people should not be given food or drink), a friend or family member will need to know how to administer glucagon—and where you keep your glucagon kit. Train everyone in your household in how to mix the powder and liquid in the kit, fill the syringe, and give the injection.
4. Prepare for emergencies.
Becoming unconscious because of hypoglycemia is scary for anyone, but it's especially dangerous for people who live alone and don't have a friend or family member to administer glucagon. Make preparations for your care ahead of time. Janet Zappe, RN, MS, CDE, clinical program manager in the Diabetes Research Center at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, says a phone buddy system can help: Ask a friend or family member to call each morning to check in. If that sounds too much like babysitting to you, try a home medical alert system.
5. Invest in a monitoring system.
A continuous glucose monitor will sound an alarm if blood glucose is headed outside the safe range. Medtronic's new mySentry system, Zappe says, can give parents peace of mind. When a sleeping child wears the MiniMed insulin pump and a continuous glucose sensor, the display device shows the blood glucose number, trends, and remaining insulin, so you can monitor the information from your own room. The downside: Monitors are pricey and not always covered by insurance.
6. Keep meds separate.
Type 2 is so prevalent, says Marsha Teodori, MSN, RN, CCRP, a diabetes nurse educator at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, that it's not uncommon for more than one person in a household to have diabetes. In those situations, it's easy to mistake someone else's medication for your own. Keep your medications in separate places and use separate pillboxes. You can also write your initials on the top in permanent marker or highlight a portion of the label in different colors. Make sure you have the right drug before you take any medication.
7. Mind your feet.
Make sure your floors are clean if you have neuropathy and have lost sensation in your feet. Keeping a tidy house is especially important for caregivers of young children, whose toys can cause wounds. Another way to reduce your risk of injury: Wear shoes in the house.
8. Explore your options.
Older adults who live on their own can maintain independence while staying safe by hiring a home health aide or certified nursing assistant, both of whom provide health-related care. (Note: Medicare and Medicaid typically don't cover such care.) The type of care is subject to state law. "The ability of a home health aide to perform more clinical activities, such as checking blood sugar and injecting insulin, varies by state and often depends on a patient's ability to direct the home health aide," says Eric Rackow, MD, CEO of home-care agency SeniorBridge and professor of medicine at the New York University School of Medicine.