Severe Hypoglycemia and the Role of the Significant Other: Expert, Sentry, and Protector

Diabetes Educ. 2015 Dec;41(6):698-705. doi: 10.1177/0145721715606223. Epub 2015 Sep 17.


Purpose: The purpose of the study was to gain a better understanding of what severe hypoglycemia means to significant others.

Methods: Narrative inquiry methodology was utilized. In-depth interviews were conducted with 7 significant others of adults with type 1 diabetes about their experience with severe hypoglycemia. Interviews were recorded, transcribed verbatim, and then developed into narrated core stories through a process of selecting and organizing events and by describing the relationship among these events. This was followed by thematic analysis to reveal the shared narrative of significant others.

Results: Episodes of severe hypoglycemia were found to turn the participants' lives upside down. The inability of the individual with diabetes to manage severe hypoglycemia required the significant other to detect and treat these episodes. The theme "managing disruption" captured how the significant others' role shifted from one of background support to an active, primary role in severe hypoglycemia management. They became (1) the expert by arming themselves with knowledge and skills to assist with the severe hypoglycemia episodes, (2) the sentry by becoming more vigilant and prepared for these episodes, and (3) the protector of the person with diabetes by shielding him or her from the vulnerable position that the severe hypoglycemia episodes placed one in.

Conclusions: This study highlights the important role that significant others play in the management of severe hypoglycemia. It also emphasizes the need for health care professionals to provide appropriate education and support.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Caregivers / psychology*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / complications*
  • Family / psychology*
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Hypoglycemia / etiology
  • Hypoglycemia / psychology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • New South Wales
  • Role*