As a caregiver, you need to communicate with many people to survive. You've got to connect with family, friends, co-workers, employers, healthcare professionals, insurance companies — and a loved one who may not be the same person he or she used to be.
Constructive and effective communication is vital. When your communication is clear, assertive and constructive, you're more likely to be heard and get the response you need. Your stress level and the added responsibilities are going to make it harder to stay focused, articulate your needs and feelings and make sure you understand what everyone is demanding from you. You'll need to stay organized, have patience and control conflicting emotions. Here are some basic guidelines for good communication.
General Communication Tips
- Be assertive, honest and patient. You've got a long road ahead. You need support from your loved one and those who will be on your team.
- Use "I" messages rather than "you" messages. By saying "I feel angry" rather than "You made me angry," you can express your feelings without blaming others or causing them to become defensive.
- Respect the rights and feelings of others. Don't say something that will violate another person's rights or intentionally hurt the person's feelings. Recognize that the other person has the right to express feelings.
- Be clear and specific. When you speak directly about what you need or feel, you take the risk that the other person might disagree or say no to your request, but your action also shows respect for the other person's opinion. When both parties speak directly, the chances of reaching understanding are greater.
- If at first you don't succeed, try and try again. If you're not getting your point across, or you're getting no response, try again later. Sometimes, it's just not the right time.
- Be a good listener. Listening is the most important aspect of communication.
- Talk openly about your fears, worries and needs.
- Discuss topics such as finances, insurance, wills and advance directives (what the loved one wants done in case of a medical emergency). These are difficult discussions, but preparing for the future can help relieve stress. Chances are your loved one is also concerned about these issues.
- With heart disease and stroke, caregiving often arises from a crisis. Remember that everyone is feeling the pressure and insecurity of the event. Try to be patient. A family member who has never been good at dealing with troubles probably won't be very good at dealing with this crisis in the beginning. Give everyone time to adjust in his or her own manner.
General Tips for Communicating with Healthcare Professionals
Be sure the doctor understands your role. If your loved one is not willing or able to take instruction, make sure the doctor tells you all important information.
Articulate the practical side of your situation to help the professionals make practical suggestions you can use. (Example: "It's better for my job if we can come early in the morning.")
Educate yourself about your loved one's condition. Use the Internet as a tool, but stick with reliable sources that the physician will respect. Organize your questions about the information you've read and be concise. Don't be afraid to ask questions, but try to be specific. Especially ask what to watch for that would indicate an emergency situation for your loved one.
Keep records of your loved one's behavior — habits such as sleeping, eating and emotional episodes, symptoms, medication habits, etc. The more detailed information you have, the easier it is for your doctor to give your loved one the best treatment.
Take time to make decisions about care. If it means having to wait a few days and it's not life-threatening, tell the doctor you need some time to discuss with your loved one or your family.
Appoint one family member as the main contact with healthcare professionals when possible. This will avoid confusion and save time for the doctors and nurses. The appointed person can clearly communicate all information and necessary decisions to be made with the rest of the family.
Hold conversations in appropriate places — not waiting rooms or corridors. You deserve to have the full attention of the doctor and the privacy that you will find in a room or office.
Ask about other resources. The doctor's staff can often point you to support groups, suggest help in paying for medications, in-home care and other things that you need as a caregiver.
Write it down. Have everything that's on your mind written down before you arrive. Once you're there, you might forget and start rambling. The more organized you are, the more help you can get.
Feel free to change. If you feel that the doctor is just not a good fit — either professionally or emotionally — ask to see a different doctor in the group or seek out another place of care.
Be appreciative. Don't forget to thank the doctor for all that he or she is doing. A little kindness and recognition goes a long way.