Enabling Good Communication: A Caregiving Approach
One primary task of family caregiving is ensuring your loved one’s needs are met. To do so, family caregivers must practice good communication strategies to listen to their love one’s wants, desires, and health needs. What exactly are these good communication strategies and in what contexts are they applied? In today’s blog we will go over communication tips for family caregivers who are caring for an aging loved one, and particularly those caring for a loved one living with a degenerative neurological disorder. We will also describe common barriers to good communication for family caregivers and how they can be overcome. By the end of this blog, we hope you come away with a set of skills to implement in your caregiving journey.
What are common challenges?
Caregivers come from a variety of different backgrounds and deal with different circumstances. For example, not everyone will be caring for someone who is living with Alzheimer’s. Some advice applied in this article may help some more than others. Below, we will list some general challenges that may confront caregivers.
- Your loved one cannot communicate as well as before: This may arise from many reasons, but a common one we see is because a loved one is living with a degenerative neurological disorder, like Alzheimer’s. Also, certain acute traumas may impair normal cognitive functions, making communication more difficult.
- Impaired senses: A common reason why it is harder to communicate with aging individuals is because hearing loss occurs among U.S. adults as we age. This can interfere with the comprehension of spoken words by others, causing communication barriers.
- Emotional challenges: Some people may experience emotional challenges because of an underlying condition. For example, disorders like Alzheimer’s can often lead to confusion, frustration, and irritability for those living with the disorder. Other times, maybe the caregiver becomes angry or frustrated with their loved one and are unable to convey their thoughts or emotions clearly. Whatever the reason may be, emotional challenges can get in the way of effective communication.
Strategies for Communication:
Below, we list out some strategies that can make communication easier or more effective if you are a family caregiver. We will provide general advice, as well as targeted advice for those in more unique circumstances.
- Active listening: Many of us are guilty of passively listening to friends or colleagues without really hearing what they are saying. This means that we are not being active listeners. To be an active listener is to focus on the meaning, intent, and purpose of the words spoken to us by someone else. It means trying to understand wholeheartedly what the person is saying. To practice active listening, it is essential to give the other person your undivided attention and to ensure you are not too distracted by other things around you (like phones, laptops, TVs, etc.).
- Reflection: A great way to put active listening into practice is to take time to reflect what the other person is saying back to you. This means trying to summarize or reiterate the essential points the other was trying to express. If you do not reflect the other person’s thoughts correctly, this gives them a chance to clarify what they said to ensure their point is made clearly.
- Patience (no interrupting): For some caregivers, their loved one may be less able to express themselves as clearly and as coherently as before (e.g., because of a medical issue). It is often better to give your loved one the opportunity to try and express themselves without trying to fill in their words or thoughts, i.e., interrupting their speech or thought process. For example, people living with Alzheimer’s may be unable to remember a word or phrase they once knew. Instead of correcting them, let them talk and try to hear what they are saying. And if they ask for help, then you can provide it. Practicing patience can be helpful to avoid frustration and arguments.
- Listen to body language: Not every caregiver is caring for a loved one who can communicate by words. Perhaps all you have is body language. Pay attention to how your loved one reacts to certain environments or changes. Keep track of positive or negative reactions during certain times of the day or after certain changes. This can help you communicate with your loved one even if they are less able to do so by speaking.
- Make the time: Communication is key in all aspects of life. However, some times may be more appropriate than others for caregiving responsibilities. Make sure that if your loved one is trying to communicate with you, you make the time to listen and respond fully and effectively. Prioritize good communication strategies and make the time for it, e.g., set aside 10 to 15 minutes per day to check in with your loved one to hear them out.
Communication is a vital part of every relationship, whether it’s between two spouses or a doctor and their client. Family caregiving is no exception not this rule. If you have any questions, then please contact ElderCare at Home at 888-285-0093 or visit our website.