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Supporting Our Caregivers

Families and Caregiving: 5 Tips for Healthy Communication

Christina Irving

LCSW, Director of Client Services, Family Caregiver Alliance

Being respectful is key when talking with family members about caring for a loved one. Here are five ways to stay focused on what matters.

The number of Americans age 65 and older is projected to nearly double in the coming decades, from 52 million in 2018 to 95 million by 2060, according to recent estimates. Family members are commonly the ones who provide care to older adults. In fact, about 34.2 million Americans provided unpaid care to an adult age 50 or older in the last 12 months.

However, faced with the complexities of caregiving, families can easily get caught up in difficult dynamics. They wrestle with sibling rivalry, providing financial assistance versus time, concerns over inheritance, and different perceptions of the loved one’s needs.

So, how do you avoid these potential pitfalls when taking on shared caregiving responsibilities? Here are some ways to make the process smoother and increase the chances of everyone

1. Be respectful

It’s important to keep in mind how you talk to each other. It’s OK to have different opinions, but you need to be able to discuss them calmly. Caregiving is an emotional journey; it’s not easy for anyone to see someone they love have health problems. Remembering that and remaining respectful helps build cooperation.

2. Focus on the present

Don’t bring up past conflicts — focus on what’s going on now. Make sure everyone in the family has a common understanding of the current situation. What is the diagnosis of the person needing care? What kind of help do they need? What options are available? If necessary, consider having a third party facilitate a family meeting.

3. Speak only for yourself

Don’t assume you know what your other family members are thinking or feeling, and don’t expect that they know what you need. Use “I” statements to communicate what you need without placing blame on others.

4. Be aware of non-verbal communication

How you say something is often more important than what you say. Pay attention to your tone of voice and facial expressions when speaking with other family members. The same goes for written communication. When in doubt, ask someone else to read a draft before sending it to ensure there aren’t unintended connotations that might make the other person defensive.

5. Be willing to negotiate

Be realistic about others’ capacities to provide care as well as your own. Let them know what you need and why, but avoid placing blame or making the other person feel guilty. Approach these conversations with a willingness to hear different solutions and to problem-solve together; you’ll get more agreement from others if they feel they have a voice in the conversation.

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