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Respectful Communication When Caring for a Loved One

Attractive mid adult African American woman embraces her ill senior mother.

Did you ever walk into the office or a get-together with family or friends and had someone say to you, “You look so tired today!” While you may have felt pretty perky until that moment, suddenly you really DO feel tired and worn out. The words we say to one another, along with the way we interpret them, are powerful. So if you’re a caregiver for a senior you love, or even just talking with someone who has a chronic health concern, it’s important to carefully think about what to say and, even more importantly, what NOT to say to help the person feel their best. Respectful communication can help pave the way to a better relationship between you and your loved one.

Although we are certainly well-meaning, there are particular comments that are better left unsaid. Saying something that is insensitive, according to Mindy Beth Lipson, a Phoenix psychologist, occurs because, “I think people are just scared and nervous and don’t know how to respond. There might be several reasons, the first being it brings up their own mortality. Some people also just lack empathy.” 

Below are a few remarks to avoid when communicating with someone who is struggling with a medical crisis:

  1. “A friend of mine had that diagnosis and was so sick for months.” Sharing negative stories about someone who had a similar diagnosis is a surefire way to bring the person’s spirits down. Instead, bear in mind that each person deals with health issues differently, and focus on the positives the person you’re talking with has experienced.
  2. “If you had quit smoking (or exercised; or stuck to a healthy eating plan; etc.), this never would have happened.” There’s no way to know whether the outcome would have been better if different choices had been made, and there’s nothing to gain by playing the “what if” game. Focus instead on providing the support and compassion the person needs now, and leave any judgmental statements at the door.
  3. “Do you remember…?” Particular to those with dementia or another type of cognitive impairment, memory prompts such as this can add to the frustration and agitation already being experienced. Talking about the news from times gone by as if it’s just happened is a great way to engage the person instead.

The best solution is to provide the person with the option to share (or not to share) with you about their specific experiences and feelings, hold their hand if it’s welcome, provide a pretty bouquet of flowers or another small gift or treat, and offer your kind, loving presence and support. 

For more tips, or for hands-on help with aging care services, call on CareFor, the top-rated provider of in home care in San Antonio, TX and the surrounding areas. We provide caring, dependable assistance for anyone struggling through a health concern or simply the challenges of aging. Give us a call at (512) 338-4533 to learn more about how we can help and to request a free in-home consultation.