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Communication…the Essentials

By William R. Leahy, M.D.

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The role of the caregiver has many facets.  An effective caregiver, whether a professional or family member, is interested in providing educated, nurturing and loving care to allow patients or loved ones to become as self-sufficient as they might be and to heal with dignity.
An effective caregiver must be an effective communicator. Communication is critical on several levels. The caregiver is the “eyes and ears” of the medical team, observing the patient daily, and must be able to develop a rapport with nurses, therapists and physicians. Secondly, the caregiver must be able to discuss with the loved one daily needs, both emotional and physical. It is evident, therefore, that the caregiver must be skilled in the art of communication.
Communication—talking, listening and exchanging information—is at the heart of caregiving. Effective exchanges will allow you to understand your loved one’s needs, express your concerns to the doctor and ask for help you need from others.
Communication becomes more difficult when people are tired, in pain, frustrated or depressed. It is easy to become distracted, confused or intimidated in a doctor’s office or on the phone with an insurance representative. When communication breaks down, the misunderstandings that arise can range from inconvenience to disastrous. By keeping a few basic communication principles in mind, you can keep the flow of information open with your family and with the care team.
First steps

Ascertain any special needs that your loved one has that might affect communication. Does he have hearing, vision or speech impairments? Is there dementia or confusion? Talk with any former caregivers to get an idea of what kind of communication has been effective for them. Also talk with healthcare professionals in the field relating to your loved one’s impairment for communication strategies. Be prepared to adjust communication strategies as his condition changes.


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