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The Art of Compassionate Communication
for Elder Caregivers

By: Jill Sarah Moscowitz

(Page (1 of 3)

“No one can ever be fully prepared for the challenges of care-giving. The tasks and responsibilities involved can be demanding, even more so when caregivers themselves are frail, have been thrust into their role unexpectedly or reluctantly, or must care for someone who is uncooperative or combative.” - The Merck Manual of Health and Healing

Caregivers can face overwhelming physical, financial, and emotional demands as a function of their service. In the face of these challenges, communication can sometimes be difficult. This article presents techniques for compassionate communication, as well as ideas for caregiver self-care and empowerment.

Communication is a process that allows a cyclical exchange of information through speaking and listening. However, as we all know, communicating is not as simple as that. Effective communication requires clarity from the person who is speaking and openness and attention from the person who is listening. This takes great commitment.

And to be compassionate, the communication should touch the heart. Compassionate communication can be understood through a breathing exercise. Put a hand on your heart; this is the center of compassionate communications. Notice your state of well-being. Imagine your whole being is entirely cared for. Take a breath in, and imagine this as a listening breath. Allow the breath to be touched by your heart, to be oxygenated and returned out. As you breathe out, imagine this as a speaking breath. And so is the cycle of breath and communication – incoming breath – touched by heart – and out going breath.

Compassionate communication includes:

  1.  Awareness

  2.  Speaking with Clarity

  3. Listening with Openness and Attention.

1. Awareness
Compassionate communication begins with an awareness of your own well being because when we focus on our well-being we create a space for the well-being of others around us. We create a space for authentic listening and speaking.

Identify Needs and Values. To create a dialogue of compassion, become familiar with your needs, values, expectations, and motivations. How did the role of caregiver come to you? Was it out of choice, obligation or circumstance? Does this role fulfill an underlying need or value to give or to feel appreciated? What other needs or values may be present for you? Perhaps there may be the need or value for connection, sense of purpose, or financial security. Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph.D. describes a list of “universal needs and values” that all humans share. To become familiar with this list visit

Options for Meeting Needs and Values. Once you’ve identified some of your core needs and values, you can evaluate how you might have these needs met. It’s possible that your needs are met through care giving. It’s possible that you hope or expect these needs to be met through care giving, but they are not. Clarify for yourself what your expectations and motivations are and then determine what is realistic for this relationship. Use the “here and now” in your determination, rather than remembering how things were at one time or how you wish things to be. Consider all of the ways your needs and values can be met, including but not limited to this relationship.

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