Caregiving Communications

Speak clearly, listen carefully to maintain open communication.

Effective communication is vital in our world, but is critical in a caregiving situation. Learn communication techniques that will help to express your feelings in a productive way that is advantageous for the caregiver, care receiver, family members, friends, health care and eldercare services team. 

When Families Disagree

When a caregiving crisis occurs within a family, it can bring family members closer together or it can drive them apart. As the demands of caregiving increase, family caregivers may find it difficult to balance the tasks at hand with the needs of other family members. Past family conflicts may resurface during this time. Read our tips for handling family caregiving conflicts.

Reasons for Family Conflict

  • Disagreements regarding the primary caregiver’s actions.
  • The financial strains of caregiving.
  • Lack of support for the primary caregiver or her unwillingness to accept support.
  • Denial of the severity of the illness.

When conflict occurs, as it may, a family meeting can be a big step in working out disagreements. By gathering together, family members can take a good look at the situation, plan for the future, and divide the responsibilities. It is important that the care receiver be included in the decision making whenever possible.

Ground Rules for the Family Meeting

  • No one is allowed to dominate the discussion.
  • No one may interrupt when someone else is speaking.
  • Everyone must be respectful of the opinions of others, even if they disagree.
  • Everyone should be given a chance to talk about her concerns before a decision is made.
  • All discussion should relate to the point at hand and not to past family arguments.

The meeting should focus on what needs to be done and who will be responsible for each task. Begin by asking for volunteers for the various tasks. Everyone can do something, even if she is busy or lives far away. Distant family members can handle paperwork, research local agencies, and make regular phone calls to the care receiver and the primary caregiver.

Ongoing Family Concerns

Family disagreements, especially around caregiving issues, continue to evolve over time. It is essential that families continue their efforts to:

  • Work on having good family relations that strengthen needed support.
  • Expect family members to share in carrying out the tasks that need to be done.
  • Keep family communications open and read more options in Extension's When Families Disagree

Communicating clearly with others.

It is necessary to express yourself clearly to professionals who provide services for the care receiver. It is also helpful to be able to speak clearly to the care receiver and other family members to provide the best care possible. It becomes more difficult to communicate clearly with the intense feelings that often accompany caring for an adult family member. Watching a family member decline is difficult, and strong emotions may erupt. It can help reduce misunderstanding when everyone expresses those emotions with kindness.

These reminders will bring more positive results when speaking:

  • Be specific. Listeners are not mind readers, yet you may often assume they know what you are thinking. Ask them if they need clarification.
  • Stay focused. When strong emotions and issues from past relationships are brought into the discussion, you are more apt to say things you do not mean.\Speak with tact. Be sensitive to the feelings of other family members. Speak for yourself only, beginning your statements with “I.”
  • Show respect. Say “thank you” and “please.”
  • Ban blaming, shaming, and put downs. Try not to accuse others. It will escalate into an argument. Insults do not solve problems or gain cooperation.
  • Be honest. Be sure your actions match your words.
  • If you must criticize, speak only of the issue at hand with kindness and respect. Be sure to include a compliment.
  • Speak calmly and directly when responding to strong emotions.
  • Read more about Speaking Clearly and Listening Carefully in these Illinois Extension tip sheets.

Communicating with older adults

Hearing and vision often decline as we age. Here are special considerations for speaking to older persons.

  • Get an older person’s attention before speaking to him. Call him by name and allow time for his attention to turn to you before speaking. This is especially important for the older person who has lost some hearing ability.
  • Include older people in the conversation, looking directly at them. With loss of vision and hearing, it becomes more difficult to gather the information used to communicate.
  • Lower the pitch and tone of your voice when speaking to someone with hearing loss. Shouting raises the pitch and makes it difficult to hear
  • Remove distractions. It is difficult for older persons to hear when there are other noises. Turn off the TV and radio. Limit speaking to one person at a time.
  • Use short, simple sentences, speaking slowly and clearly.
  • Use body language as you speak. As vision and hearing decline, older persons become more dependent on nonverbal communication