As my dad approaches his late 80’s he is facing the challenges that age brings including needing increased care. At the same time he is facing the reality of decreased independence. That has been very difficult for him and it has been very difficult for the family as we take up more responsibility for his every day needs. One of the keys I have found both inside my family and with working with families who are dealing with the transitions that come with caregiving is effective communication. Learning how to communicate well can save a lot of trouble during the process of becoming or being a caregiver. Here are some of tools that I have found useful.
Have a plan – Many times families do not begin the discussion about caregiving until the need is at hand. At that point a lot of decisions are made during what is a stressful time. Though those conversations may be uncomfortable, it is helpful for everyone involved to begin talking about the eventuality of having to provide ongoing caregiving for a loved one. Find out what the goals are for each progressive step along the way and who is responsible for those steps. By having a plan you will avoid the squabbles that families often go through while trying to make painful decisions.
Ask questions – I find that this is sometimes hard for everyone. No one wants to discuss potentially hard choices but by asking the right questions you can avoid issues later down the line. Some questions to discuss might include: What happens when you can no longer drive? There may come a time when independent living may no longer be possible, what would you want to do if that happens? What are your wishes if you had to be put on permanent life support? Who is going to be responsible as the primary caregiver? The questions should be a starting point of the discussion. I have found it is often best to discuss them over time and then share the answers with the larger community so that everyone is aware of the decisions being made.
Over-communicate – Communication is important before, during and after decisions are made. I have often been surprised that some of the closest families can be torn apart because of poor or miscommunication between various parties. When everyone is on the same page it makes it easier to navigate the often difficult things that come along with caregiving. Over-communicating is the key for a unified process.
Share the burden - Many times I see a single family member who bears the bulk of the caregiving responsibility. Often that has to do with availability and location. It also can lead to anger, resentment and hurt feelings. It is important that everyone share the burden that comes with being a caregiver. If you are the primary caregiver it is important to communicate what is happening but also how the larger community can help ease the burden. It is important to communicate when help is needed and what that help could look like. Sharing the burden allows everyone to be an active part in the caregiving.
Caregiving can be difficult for both the person who is receiving the care as well as the caregivers. Communication is the key to helping make caregiving as stress free as possible for everyone involved. With everyone working towards the same goal you can ensure a successful transition towards offering a loved one ongoing caregiving.
Stephen Halpin is a certified Life Coach who has been in practice for over 15 years. He is a proud member of the International Association of Professional Life Coaches and the North American Life Coach Association. Stephen can be reached at StephenLifeCoach@gmail.com