Speaking the language of diabetes

Rudyard Kipling once said “Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.” What you say matters. Sugar diabetes is an outdated and informal term for diabetes mellitus. Until terms were standardized, diabetes could be called just about anything such as “The Sugar” and “Sugar Sickness.” How we talk to and about people living with diabetes can have an important impact on motivation, behaviors, and outcomes in the self-management of the disease for these individuals. Words can empower and support people with diabetes.

First learning you have diabetes can feel quite overwhelming, mostly because the daily management of the disease is challenging.

In order to stay healthy when living with diabetes, a person must choose healthy food choices, be active, manage stress, monitor blood glucose (sugar) levels, and use medications as directed. Juggling all those things every day can be tough. Even if you don’t understand all aspects of day to day living and managing diabetes, using respectful language with the persons needs as the focus instead of the disease can make a big difference in feelings of hope and strength in self-care.

Start by using the following words and simple phrases. Say “person with diabetes” or “living with diabetes”, not diabetic. This puts the person first instead of defining the person by their disease.

Say “manage” instead of “control” when talking about the disease. It is impossible to control diabetes, but you can talk about what daily activities a person is doing to live with and manage the disease. For example, checking blood sugar levels instead of testing blood sugar levels. Test is a negative term indicating pass or fail. But checking blood sugar levels helps a person to make appropriate decisions about next steps in their days activities such as food choices at next meal.

You can use words like participation, engagement, and involvement instead of compliance and adherence. Being non-compliant or not adhering implies the person is being willful or acting like a child. These negative words can imply a person can do better or they are not doing enough. Instead, it is preferred to emphasize a person’s strengths and acknowledge what they are doing well, then helping them to build on that. For example, focusing on facts (not judgements) such as “So mom, you are telling me you are taking your insulin when you can afford it. Let me get involved to help you figure out how you can afford it all the time.”

As a community, what we say and how we say it shape our relationships. Words can hurt, blame, shame, and can judge. It is hard managing a chronic disease.

It is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with no vacation. Choosing respectful, strength-based, and empowering language has the power to connect us together in conversation and unite us together to improve health. It is time to change the conversation and use words that are neutral and non-judgmental, because when we change the way people feel we can help make diabetes a little easier to live with.

We know the healthy choice is not always the easiest choice, but small changes can make a big difference.

Carey Skelton, Chautauqua County Office for Aging Services dietitian, is available for nutrition education through SNAP-ed programs. The SNAP-ed programs are free for those who receive or qualify for SNAP benefits.

The Chautauqua County Office for Aging Services Senior Nutrition Program also provides nutritious meals through home-delivered meals and the Dining Out Program throughout the county.

The Office for the Aging also sponsors several exercise programs. Remember to contribute toward your OFAS nutrition services if you can. Programs are not sustainable without the support of participant and community contributions.

Be aware that SNAP benefits can be used toward a contribution. Call NY Connects at 716-453-4582 for more details and information about any of these Nutrition and Wellness programs provided by Chautauqua County Office for Aging Services.


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