Communication Skills and Caregivers
After spending the afternoon at the hospital, I was hurrying to my car at dusk on a Friday evening. It was cold, and I just wanted to go home. My phone rang; it was the surgeon telling me that he had scheduled Dan for surgery the next morning. I asked no questions. I just agreed to be there and asked what time.
What we say, how we say it, what we don’t say, and our body language provides meaningful messages. Knowing what I know today, I would give a different message in that conversation.
General communication tips for caregivers include the following.
Use “I” messages rather than “you” messages. By saying, “I feel angry,” rather than “You made me angry,” we can express our feelings without blaming others or causing them to be defensive.
Respect the feelings and rights of others. We want to recognize that other people have the right to express their feelings.
Be clear and specific. We should express our needs and feelings clearly. When both parties are straightforward, the chances of reaching a mutual understanding are more significant.
If we don’t succeed at first, try again. If we’re not getting our point across or getting no response, we should try later. Sometimes, it’s just not the right time.
In the caregiver workshop I attended, the presenter discussed communication when caring for a person experiencing memory problems and with family members or healthcare professionals, which was particularly helpful.
With Memory Problems
The dementia drastically altered Dan’s behavior and understanding. Communicating was a significant issue for us.
He couldn’t change, so I had to find effective communication strategies. Arguing, rationalizing, and telling him what to do didn’t work, but he was sensitive to nonverbal signals. So, I learned to:
Be calm and gentle - tone down arguments with hugs and soft words.
Look him in the eye, stand before him, and touch him when I talked to him.
Reduce distractions like television or music.
With Family and Professionals
The workshop taught a five-step process to express ourselves with family members and professionals.
I - identify the situation- ask for specific assistance, and use assertive words.
D - describe the situation - clearly state what we think and feel.
E - express what we need to know or what we want the listener to do.
A - amplify or emphasize why we need this request and how it can help.
L - listen to whether the listener can fulfill the request. If so, say thank you and explain how you will follow through - if they can’t, ask if it is possible to negotiate something.
This process can be helpful. We won’t always get the desired results, but it gives us a framework for expressing our needs.
I would have responded differently had I known it when talking to the doctor that Friday evening.
First, I would have found a place to conduct the conversation rather than walking down the street - preferably, it would have been in person - or at least in the warmer car.
No matter the surroundings, I would have been better prepared regarding the possible adverse effects of the surgery and voiced my concerns. I just trusted what the doctor said. I would have requested to talk with the anesthetist, questioned whether the surgery was essential, and asked more about the procedure and possible consequences.
In the long run, that conversation may not have mattered; Dan had the beginnings of dementia, but maybe the progression would not have accelerated as quickly had I explored other options.
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