Preventing Diabetes Accidents

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Nobody expects accidents. That’s what makes them accidents. But the element of surprise is misleading. The actual events seem like bad luck, but our environment, our health, and our behavior set them up.

Most accidents can be prevented by safe behaviors and being aware of our environments. In that way, accidents are much like diabetes complications. Diabetes puts you at risk, but how much risk is largely up to you. Accident prevention is part of self-management.

People with diabetes injure themselves in falls more often than those without diabetes and also have more risk for traffic accidents and some other kinds of accidents. Why is this, and how can you avoid becoming one of those statistics?

Here are some of the types of accidents related to diabetes, and what you can do:

People with diabetes are more likely to fall on stairs if they have numbness in their feet, called peripheral neuropathy, or PN. A recent study from England measured how much people swayed from side to side as they went up or down stairs. Those with numb feet swayed much more, which could throw them off balance, leading to a fall.

Lead researcher Steven Brown of Manchester Metropolitan University told an interviewer that people with PN had average “normal sway.” They could walk just fine. But they had far greater “maximal sway,” showing that “the increased risk of falling stems from momentary periods of instability rather than continuously poor control.” In other words, they are more likely to stumble or take a bad step.

So if a person with diabetes and numb feet falls down stairs, that’s an accident. But it was an accident waiting to happen. People with PN should have handrails on stairways, preferably on both sides. Hold them when going up and down stairs.

Falls have several other diabetes-related causes. Poorer vision might cause you to trip over things. So some falls can be prevented with good lighting. Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) might cause you to lose balance, so preventing hypos helps.

Some medicines can cause dizziness, leading to falls. If you notice dizziness, tell your doctor and adjust medications if necessary.

A common cause of falls is junk left lying around the floor, especially on stairs. Children are especially likely to do this. Diabetes is another good reason to keep things neat. We have a good download on preventing falls here.

Bathtub injuries
Neuropathy also sets you up for heat injuries to your feet. If you have PN, never get in a bathtub or a shower without checking the water temperature with your arm first. Never. And have grab bars installed on the walls of your tub to prevent falls.

Driving accidents
One day last year, I had just gotten off a city bus in San Francisco when another bus slammed into the one I had been on. The driver had fallen asleep at the wheel, and 14 people went to the hospital. Turned out the driver had diabetes and had gone low and fallen asleep.

People with diabetes who have lows are more likely to have auto accidents. Diabetes-related vision problems can also increase the risk for driving mishaps.

Preventing hypos should be the number one priority for drivers with diabetes. As you probably know, it’s better to have a blood glucose level that’s a little high than to risk going low while driving.

If you have visual problems, night driving may not be for you. Here are some tips from the American Diabetes Association on safe driving with diabetes. Better yet, don’t drive as much. Take public transportation or walk and get some exercise.

Accidents with insulin dosage
When I worked as a hospital nurse, we didn’t use insulin pens or insulin pumps or other methods that can help you be sure of how much you’re giving. We had to be very careful to give exactly the amount of insulin that was ordered.

But what if you can’t see the little lines on the syringe? What if your hands shake? It’s really easy to give a wrong dose, and people do that to themselves fairly often. With pens and pumps this doesn’t happen as much, but we still need to be careful.

Household accidents
Statistically, homes are dangerous places. According to Prevention magazine, over 4,000 people each year are injured in cooking accidents, mostly burns and cuts. Low vision increases the risks. Get good oven mitts and good lighting and take your time with cutting.

In fact, taking our time with everything we do is the best way to prevent accidents. That’s hard to do in our stressful world, but if you can remember to breathe and slow down, you can still get things done while being safe.

If you have any diabetes safety tips, please share them with us. You might save somebody a lot of grief.

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