There are a lot of emotions that go into bringing a caregiver into the fold, whether that means hiring someone you don’t know to take care of a loved one or asking someone you do know, like a sibling, to act in a different capacity. Caregiving means establishing trust, and good communication is one of the ways that happens.
What Information Needs to Be Communicated
When a caregiver is hired, one of the things that needs to be communicated by the family is what is normal for the client. By having this information, the hired caregiver can then know what is abnormal. “Once normal is established, then abnormalities should always be communicated to the family,” says Kayla Cook, owner and director of Caring Excellence at Home. She says the timeliness of communicating those abnormalities depends on what they are. “If it is a pretty drastic change in the normal, like Mom is dizzy today, then it should be communicated in real time,” she says. Dizziness could be a reaction to medicine or a stroke that proves life-threatening.
Other things to communicate in real time include a client’s refusal to take medications, falls, or risks in the home such as a water leak, which could result in extra expenses for the family.
Kayla recommends that caregivers keep a flow chart to record information about what clients ate and drank each day and how often they eliminated. She says a client’s orientation level is also important to communicate, because seniors often present with confusion when they are developing a urinary tract infection.
Whether families hire a caregiver privately or through an agency, Kayla says they need to let their expectations be known from the beginning. Do they want the caregiver to engage the client with games and conversation? Do they want the caregiver to ensure the loved one gets some basic exercise? It is critical for families to convey their expectations in order for caregivers to meet those expectations.
Families should also be direct about how often they want communication and in what way (text, flow chart, or phone call). Kayla says families often hire a respite caregiver to take the load off a family member who has been serving as a primary caregiver. “We don’t want it to be a constant barrage of questions and information that’s weighing down that daughter and son,” she says. “We want to take the load off the responsible people as much as they want us to.”
A Need for Flexibility, Patience, and Preparedness
Janet McCarthy is an experienced caregiver who says being adaptable is a key part of effective communication. “We must all have the ability to shift when needed to accommodate all parties,” she says. Being mindful of other people’s needs and feelings is necessary. Of course, communication also demands that all parties show some patience as well.
She says caregivers also need to be organized and prepared so that when and if an emergency occurs, the caregiver can communicate with families and health care providers with accurate information. However, caregivers need to also keep in mind the privacy and the dignity of the person receiving care. “Information should not be given without the permission of all said parties prior to the need,” Janet says.
Family Dynamics, Communication, and Caregiving
A family’s dynamics will be at play when and if a parent develops a need that requires caregiving. As a primary caregiver to her husband for 25 years, a team caregiver to her mother and sister, and a caregiver support group facilitator, Joy Walters has both experienced and heard from others about how family dynamics can impact communication and caregiving.
She says many families come into the caregiving role as the result of a crisis situation, such as an older parent falling and breaking a hip. The stress of that crisis has an impact on both how people give and receive communication. “The more critical the situation, the higher the stress; there may be things you think you communicate that you haven’t,” Joy says.
Family members often have certain roles; for example, the responsible eldest child or the baby whose siblings never allow her to make decisions. These roles can make communication more of a challenge, so it is important that everyone in the family be included in the communication chain, even if some of those family members don’t have the ability to be caregivers. Joy says that not every family member has a personality that responds well to a crisis or being a caregiver. Living out of town, having inflexible job schedules, having young children, or having their own medical or mental health challenges impact people’s ability to share in caregiving tasks.
Communication and COVID-19
COVID-19 has changed how families receive communication simply because adult children or spouses aren’t able to physically be with their loved ones who are in a hospital or senior community. They aren’t there when a doctor makes rounds nor can they visit the nurses’ station to ask questions, which has put a tremendous strain on families. Hospital and senior care staff are also under tremendous stress to manage infection control protocols and the added complications that come with caregiving during COVID-19.
The pandemic has made it especially important that we all, as Joy recommends, remember that we’re all human beings capable of miscommunication or misunderstanding.
By Carrie Vittitoe