Managing Attention Disorders and Diabetes?

It’s five past nine, and you’re late for work again. Clearing a space among piles of accumulating paper, you begin gathering the things you’ll need for the day: briefcase, keys, lunch and you check the clock. Time to check your blood sugar. Then, your eyes flit to the kitchen sink—you should wash those. An hour later, you’re out the door. You haven’t checked your blood sugar, and you’ve left your Humalog pen on the kitchen counter.

If you’re living with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), you’re familiar with these cycles of distraction, intense focus, and loss of attention. Everyday tasks, even important ones like picking your child up from soccer, slip through the cracks. You struggle to prioritize issues, and get distracted by minutiae or future events. Time slips away from you in moments of intense hyperfocus or spacey hypo-focus. Taken together, this can make you feel flighty, careless, compulsive, and hopelessly forgetful.

People living with diabetes and ADD experience the same core issues as those with attention disorders alone—only the stakes are higher. Forgetting your keys might be a nuisance to you or your family, but forgetting your Humalog pen is a matter of health. Unless you have time to return home, you’ll either have to starve all day, or eat, and drive your blood sugar off the charts. Remembering to check your blood sugar is a daily challenge, and even when you do remember, the thought disappears as quickly as it materialized.

On its own, low or high blood sugar makes it difficult to focus, motivate yourself, and think clearly. In a patient with ADD, for whom these are already challenges, the side effects of high or low blood sugar are compounded. Poorly managed ADD leads to poorly managed diabetes, breeding a vicious cycle.

If you struggle to maintain your diabetes care, learning to manage your ADD can bring you one step closer. Remember:

Always take your medication—not just on the days you work. Caring for diabetes is a full-time job, and it requires your sharpest focus possible. If you feel like you are not receiving the right dose, speak with your doctor.

Develop a system that works. Medication can do a lot for people with ADD, but many still struggle to master daily tasks. Write yourself notes, set reminders on your phone—anything that helps you remember to check your blood sugar.

Your ADD and diabetes maintenance are inexorably linked. You will only get your diabetes under control once you get your ADD symptoms to a manageable level.

Your cognitive symptoms are symptoms—not shortcomings. You may feel flaky, forgetful, or careless due to ADD. Don’t internalize this feeling—accept your symptoms for what they are, and work towards a healthier future.

How do you manage your ADD and diabetes? Share any tips, tricks, or questions in the comment section.

Eliot LeBow, LCSW, CDE, is a diabetes-focused psychotherapist. His private practice, located in New York City and is also available via Skype. LeBow, who has been living with type 1 diabetes since 1977, treats the many diverse cognitive, behavioral, and emotional needs of people living with type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

For more information go to his website or Facebook Page or set up a free 30-minute phone consultation to see if talk therapy is right for you.

Medical Disclaimer:
All the advice included in this blog is therapeutic in nature and should not be considered medical advice. Before making any changes to your diabetes maintenance program, please consult with your primary physician or endocrinologist.

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