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J Am Geriatr Soc. 1996 Nov;44(11):1314-21.

The care of older persons with diabetes mellitus: families and primary care physicians.

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Boston University School of Medicine, Massachusetts, USA.



To determine the extent to which family members participate in the day-to-day management of diabetes mellitus in older persons, and in older diabetics' medical encounters, and to identify patient and family member characteristics associated with this participation.


A longitudinal observational study, with baseline data being reported herein.


Three primary care practice settings in Seattle, Washington, Boston, Massachusetts, and Indianapolis, Indiana.


Family members of patients 70 years of age or older participating in the Patient Outcomes Research Team (PORT) Study of type II diabetics.


The two dependent variables represent, respectively, the extent of family members' assistance with diabetes-related care and participation in older diabetics' medical encounters.


The 357 family members enrolled were older (mean age = 66.3 years), were mostly women (76.2%), and were usually the spouses of diabetic patients (71.3%). Between 22% and 50% of family members reported helping with various aspects of diabetes care; 35.6% of family members participated regularly in their diabetic patients' medical encounters. A multiple linear regression model relating family assistance with diabetes-related care to patient and family member characteristics included four variables: patients' physical function, and the family member's relationship to the patient, assistance with basic activities of daily living (ADLs), and understanding of diabetes management issues (all P < .05). A multiple logistic regression model relating family member participation in the medical encounter to patient and family member characteristics also included four variables: patient age and physical function, and family member assistance with instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs) and with diabetes-related care (all P < .05).


The family members studied frequently assisted older diabetics with diabetes-specific care; more than one-third were regular participants in older diabetics' medical encounters. Family member involvement in the day-to-day management of diabetes and in the medical encounter was more likely when patients were functionally disabled. Health care systems and physicians need to educate their older patients, and involved family members when patients are frail, about diabetes-related care issues and support them in their roles in the management of diabetes as well as other chronic diseases.

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