50 Communication Tips and Techniques for Caregivers

Whether you're a professional nurse or just taking care of a loved one, you're bound to run into communication challenges as a caregiver. Some of the issues caregivers deal with include talking to care providers, managing memory loss, and avoiding power struggles. It's not an easy job, but armed with these tips, you can make things just a little bit easier.

Memory Loss

Many conditions, such as Alzheimer's, that require a caregiver involve memory loss, which can make communication difficult. Following these tips can help ease the difficulty.

  1. Offer visual help: To jog your patient's memory, offer assistance like picture labels or pointing.
  2. Be helpful: If your patient is having trouble placing a word or thought, gently suggest or try to provide what they're looking for.
  3. Walk them through it: Instead of telling a person with memory loss what to do, you should show them specifically how to do it and even have them practice.
  4. Provide lots of reminders: In the course of regular conversation, frequently remind your patient about events that are coming up.

Speaking

In the course of conversation, pay attention to the way you're speaking to the patient, and use these tips for better clarity and understanding.

  1. Speak clearly: When talking to your patient, speak in slow, even tones with purpose so that you're easy to understand.
  2. Speak only as loudly as you need to: Don't speak louder than you really need to, or you may insult your patient and make them frustrated.
  3. Give them time: Give your patient ample time to formulate a response and don't interrupt.
  4. Speak slowly: Don't rush through your words, or your patient may get overwhelmed by listening to you.
  5. Talk about one thing at a time: Don't confuse your patient by changing conversations rapidly. Break up topics and alert them to conversation changes.

Attention

Patients may have hearing loss, attention problems, or just lots of distractions. Here's how to make sure you're getting their full attention.

  1. Use their name: Your patient should respond to their name, so use it before talking to get their attention.
  2. Ensure that needs are met: Your patient will communicate best when their needs like rest, hunger and exercise have been taken care of.
  3. Choose a quiet place: Avoid environments with lots of noise so that even hard of hearing patients or those that get distracted won't have trouble hearing you.
  4. Ask if it's a good time to talk: Your patient may not be in the mood to carry on a conversation, so always ask if they're ready to have a discussion.
  5. Avoid distractions: Communicate in a location that doesn't have a lot of distractions like television or pets so that you won't have to compete for attention.
  6. Keep eye contact: Maintain eye contact with your patient so that they know you're speaking specifically to them.
  7. Offer encouragement: Say things like, "I understand," or "Tell me more."
  8. Gently touch their arm or shoulder: Get their attention with a soft touch, and speak to them when they look at you.

Nonverbal

Although speech is important, your nonverbal signals are just as significant. Follow these tips to make sure you're using them effectively.

  1. Always be aware of your own nonverbal cues: Your voice and body language will go a long way in your communication, so be sure that they're saying what you really mean.
  2. Use hand signals: If your patient is hard of hearing, supplement your words with simple hand signals.
  3. Maintain a comfortable distance: Although caregiving may have you in close contact often, it's not always comfortable to communicate in close quarters, so keep your distance.
  4. Point: Supplement your words with a non-verbal signal like pointing to get your message across.
  5. Draw: Creating a visual representation of what you're trying to communicate can make it easier for your patient to understand you.
  6. Write out words: If your patient can't understand what you're saying, try writing it out to make things clearer.

Behavior

Practice the following behaviors when communicating with your patient.

  1. Take a deep breath: Try deep breathing to relax before a conversation, and take deep breaths to calm down if the discussion turns difficult.
  2. Always acknowledge your patient: Don't talk about your patient with others as if they're not there. Bring them into the conversation so that they can be involved as well.
  3. Treat the patient as an adult: Always ask the patient to do something instead of telling them.
  4. Be responsive: When your patient wants to talk, listen, and pay attention to nonverbal cues.
  5. Listen: Carefully listen to what your patient is saying instead of quickly moving on to the next topic.
  6. Avoid arguing: Remember that your patient's needs are the primary concern, and instead of arguing, focus on meeting needs.
  7. Acknowledge feelings: Although it may be uncomfortable, it's important that you acknowledge the feelings of your patient so that they have someone to talk to and don't feel marginalized.
  8. Pay attention to behavior: Consider whether your patient's words and behavior seem to match, or if they have something else they'd really like to say.
  9. Be friendly: Laugh and use humor whenever it's appropriate to relieve tension and enjoy conversing with each other.
  10. Ask questions: Don't assume you understand everything your patient is saying, ask questions until you have a clear picture.

With Others

Although communication with your patient is paramount, it's incredibly important that you can properly communicate with care providers, insurance, and family members, as you may act as your patient's mediator and voice.

  1. Stay organized: As a caregiver, it's your responsibility to ensure that your patient's needs are carefully handled, so make sure that you have all of the information at hand when working with others.
  2. Ensure that the doctor knows what you're doing: Don't let the doctor talk to your patient and leave you out of the loop. Ask to be told about instructions and important details.
  3. Be patient: Dealing with doctors, insurance, and other patient needs can be trying, but it's important for their sake that you remain calm.
  4. Take time with decisions: Don't feel pressured into making on-the-spot decisions if you don't have to. Take the time to discuss it with your patient and the family first.
  5. Find out all of your doctor's details: Gather information about office hours, medical emergencies, after hours care, and alternative practitioners..
  6. Do your research: Learn everything you can about your patient's condition so that you can make good decisions about their care and be able to discuss it with them.
  7. Be persistent: Don't give up just because getting through is difficult. Remember that the health of another person is in your hands.
  8. Take notes: Keep a care notebook with your patient's habits, your concerns for the doctor, and what the doctor says so that you'll have all of your information easy at hand when you need it.
  9. Be honest: Don't keep important information to yourself just because it's embarrassing. Discuss incontinence, emotional outbursts, and other issues if they come up.
  10. Be clear and specific: don't hint or assume that others know what you want or need.
  11. Be sure you completely understand: Before ending the conversation, be absolutely sure that you understand what you've discussed by asking for clarification.
  12. Talk openly about concerns: When talking with family members, don't shy away from topics of worry and fear. They need to be addressed, and will always come up eventually.
  13. Make calls at a good time: Plan your phone calls so that they occur at a time that's convenient for your time as a caregiver as well as the other person on the phone. This is particularly helpful when dealing with doctors.
  14. Keep the doctor in the loop: Make sure that your patient's doctor is well informed about complications like fever, drainage, and bleeding.
  15. Don't gossip: Avoid sharing information about your patient with anyone that doesn't need to know. This is a violation of their privacy and trust.
  16. Establish a relationship: Create an ally with your patient's receptionist, or an insurance representative so that you'll be more likely to get help when you need it.
  17. Always ask questions about new medicine: Find out how long you should give the medicine for, how it should be administered, and other important details.