ARTICLES / General / Communication…the Essentials /
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By William R. Leahy, M.D.
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.
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