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Improving Communication, part 2

When your goal is to improve communication

bullhornwith your care receiver,  your care receiver needs to see you as an advocate, not an adversary. Your ultimate goal is to have your care receiver trust you enough that he/she will 

share concerns with you (like getting lost or forgetting things) instead of hiding them. To achieve this, both parties must agree that this partnership is primarily for the benefit of the care receiver.

I had lunch at an upscale assisted living. At the neighboring table, one woman was telling another that her children brought her to this community and dropped her off, and drove away. A staff member told her she had a room already decorated there and show it to her. Obviously, this was a fractured, frustrating relationship for both the care receiver and the caregiver. Sometimes bringing your care partner to a community like this is the only option remaining but usually not when communication is at its best.

My most recent blog was about Reflective Listening. This is a technique in which you subtly repeat what you think the care receiver said so he/she can correct you if you misunderstood. This helps the partnership by demonstrating that you are committed to understanding the  needs of the care receiver. Today, the ‘I Statement’.

Use ‘I’ Statements

This technique has a unique formula: I feel__________ when you ___________(insert something they say or do).  The beauty of an’ I’ statement is it places no fault, and you accept responsibility for what you are feeling. (Remember, no one can make you feel guilty; you have to allow it.) Counselors (like me) are annoyed when people say, “He made me feel so guilty.” Not true. When you really believe that you have no cause to feel guilty, that you did nothing wrong or damaging, no one can make you feel that way.

Example: ‘I feel frustrated when you talk about leaving.’ This type of statement takes responsibility for the feeling but doesn’t accuse. It leaves the door open for a response that may clarify the situation.

(your) Feelings ….when you (their) Behavior
Sad   Smile when you see me
Angry   Slam the door
Glad   Complain about the food
Upset   Refuse to take your medicine
Happy   Are late
Annoyed   Don’t eat well
  Mix and Match  


This is difficult to learn and even harder to remember to use in the heat of the moment but it is richly rewarding. I am pleased when you write to tell me you read my blogs 😊



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Improving Communication

dogs001 black and white    Successful communication results from the combined efforts of the speaker and the listener.  It has been successful when the speaker’s message has been acknowledged by the listener sufficiently for the speaker to experience having successfully delivered the intended message. One of the most powerful experiences a human can enjoy is having their communication understood and acknowledged by another non-judgmental person.

Your care receiver needs to see you as his/her Advocate, not as an Adversary. Older parents are more likely to share their concerns about memory loss, recent falls, getting lost while driving  IF they do not perceive that you are not going to use this against them.  One way to do this is to develop a peer-to-peer relationship. To accomplish this, you need to change the way you communicate.

In order for what you want to say to your care receiver to be heard and understood, you must first learn to listen. You must make plain your commitment to listen.

Guidelines for effective listening:

  1. Be quiet
  2. Maintain eye contact
  3. Do not argue mentally: you cannot be effectively listening if you are formulating an answer
  4. Do not jump to conclusions
  5. Use restatement (reflective listening) to confirm that you have heard the message correctly

Be quiet – you cannot listen if you are talking, and you are not listening if you are mentally formulating what reply you are going to make. You can tell whether the person you are talking to is listening by the amount of time it takes for them to reply. If it instantaneous, they weren’t listening to you; they were planning their response. If it takes several seconds for them to answer, they were probably listening to your message.

Maintain eye contact. If you are looking around the room or at your iPhone or tying your shoes, you aren’t listening. Listening is a complex activity, it requires concentration.

Do not argue mentally. Like #1, this means you cannot be considering how to effectively refute what the speaker is saying. You won’t hear what is being said if you are concentrating on how to prove it wrong.

Do not jump to conclusions. I was late picking my daughter up after school. She was furious when she got in the car. She said, “Where have you been?!” I got defensive, and that started an all afternoon quarrel. Instead of assuming she was going to complain, I should have let her tell me what she was excited to tell my about, why she was so eager to see me. I jumped to a wrong conclusion.

Use restatement or reflective listening. This is a powerful tool.

To use this technique, think that you are a mirror, and you mirror what is said to you back to the speaker. Most speakers don’t like you to act like a parrot, so you have to change the words a little.

Your speaker says, “This is a nice day.”

You respond, “The weather is pleasant.”

Even though you make this a statement, it is ‘open-ended’. It gives the speaker the chance to correct what you heard.

Your speaker says, “No, the weather is too cool. Today has been nice because I’ve enjoyed your visit.”

This is effective communication: the speaker knows that you have heard what he/she is saying.

Unfortunately, much of your conversation with your parent is probably full of miscommunication.

Your parent says, “I want to leave this place.”

You respond, “I looked and looked to find this place; it’s perfect for you!”

A better response is, “You would like to live somewhere else.” (NOT a question – a restatement, open-ended.)

This response gives your parent a chance to correct what you heard into a statement that more closely resembles what he/she intended to say. Your care receiver replies, “No, I’m just bored; I want to go shopping.” Much better!

This technique requires lots of practice. Find a patient friend and ask that poor person to make questionable statements to which you can respond with a mirroring statement.

-“I’m ready for dinner.”  Respond: You are hungry.  Speaker: ‘No, I’m tired of standing up or I’m eager to share a meal with you or I think there is bread pudding for dessert.’

Now you are communicating!

Getting lost while driving is frustrating. When you tell a friend or your husband about the experience, how do you expect the friend to respond?   Possibly something like, “That must have been scary.” Or “Silly goose, what were you doing driving in that part of town, anyway?”

If your parent tells you they got lost driving, what is your most likely reaction? Possibly, “You are too old to be driving.” Or “You simply cannot trust your memory anymore; you’ve got to stop driving.”  This may be the case, but it does not improve your relationship with your parent to say it.

Instead, use Reflective Listening. “That must have been frightening.” Establishing this new peer-to-peer relationship allows you to hear your parents’ complaints about in-home caregivers, choice of facility, doctors, physical decline, etc. – without you feeling you must act or find a solution.  Just listen and give your parent gift of feeling heard.

            FYI – this technique works very well with teenagers, spouses, and your boss.

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aging wisdomYoung people tend to view later life as a period of sadness and loss. Yet for many older adults, this is not the case; in fact, older adults may use what they have learned throughout life to have happiness in their ‘golden years.’ Younger years can be a ‘training ground’ for life. Throughout our lives we experience tragedies, setbacks, losses and sorrows, and learn that although they are painful, they are survivable. We feel sad for a period but, after time passes, we can see the sun again. We learn that good times and happy outcomes come even after personal tragedies.

In fact, the studies about later life show that middle years are the unhappiest times of our lives. We are busy building our careers, raising children, paying a mortgage, and so many more tasks; these require most of our energy, and create enough stress to make our middle years less happy. These studies findings are true across cultures and income levels. According to the studies, the happiest times of life are childhood and late life.

Erik Erikson, the famous German psychologist of the last century, theorized that there are several stages of life development; each has its own task that must be completed before we can move on to the next stage. The final stage of life he called ‘integrity versus despair.’ He wrote that at the end of our lives we must ‘integrate’ the various tasks of life, all the many hats we have worn as we have lived, into a whole. Older people need to feel that they have contributed to society and feel satisfied with the way they have lived their life.

If they do not accomplish this task, they feel that they have failed, that they have wasted their one and only life. They experience many regrets and feel bitterness about what they were not able to do in their lives. They wish that they could turn back the years for second chances.

The successful adults who have achieved integrity may also be the holders of wisdom. Wisdom is out of reach for most people early in life because they have not had  time for learning experiences. A study of CEO’s in their 50’s through 70’s showed they scored lower than their younger peers on speed and tests of reasoning, yet they were running stable, successful large companies. Later life allowed them to see clearer answers, and to stop second-guessing themselves. They have come to understand that crises can be survived.

Families love their older relatives because they can share their experiences and help the younger members understand that life does go on. Elders give back emotionally and behaviorally, if not materially.

The people to watch are those older adults who have many regrets, those who did not live up to their early promises and dreams. Suicide among older adults is high. There are more suicides in this age group than any other, including teenagers. If you know an older adult who appears despondent, is withdrawn and no longer involved in social interactions, take a moment to write a note, call, or visit. It might save a life, or at the very least, add a little sunshine to a broken person.

Tell the older people in your life how much you have benefited from your relationship with them and bring a smile.

To read more on this topic, try Better with Age: The psychology of successful aging by A. Castel, or the Happiness Curve by J. Rauch

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Rose started her college education at age eighty-seven. She said that she was there to meet a rich husband, get married, have a couple of children, and then retire and travel. In a more serious moment she admitted that she had “always wanted a college education and now I’m getting one!”1166293-Cartoon-Of-A-Granny-Woman-Avatar-Royalty-Free-Vector-Clipart (2)

At the end of the semester Rose was invited to speak at a banquet. As she began to deliver her prepared speech, she dropped her three by five cards on the floor. Frustrated and a little embarrassed she leaned into the microphone and simply said, “I’m sorry I’m so jittery. I gave up beer for Lent and this whiskey is killing me! I’ll never get my speech back in order so let me just tell you what I know.”

As we laughed, she cleared her throat and began: “We do not stop playing because we are old; we grow old because we stop playing. I’ve learned a few secrets to staying young, being happy, and achieving success. You have to laugh and find humor every day. You’ve got to have a dream. When you lose your dreams, you die. We have so many people walking around who are dead and don’t even know it!”

“There is a huge difference between growing older and growing up. If you are nineteen years old and lie in bed for one full year and don’t do one productive thing, you will turn twenty years old. If I am eighty-seven years old and stay in bed for a year and never do anything I will turn eighty-eight. Anybody can grow older. That doesn’t take any talent or ability.”

“The idea is to grow up by always finding the opportunity in change. Have no regrets. The elderly usually don’t have regrets for what we did, but rather for things we did not do. The only people who fear death are those with regrets.”

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blog001Here is a quick survey to determine your level of stress. Fill out the questionnaire on the first page and score it on the second.

What are ways to reduce stress?

  • One of my favorites is to throw your Tupperware (or other plastic storage items) at the fence. This makes a satisfying sound and doesn’t hurt anyone, not even the Tupperware.
  • I find working a jigsaw puzzle helpful. It distracts me from other thoughts because it requires my total focus.
  • Talk to your friends. That’s what they are for! You don’t need to discuss your stressors with them, just have a pleasant conversation, and you may feel less stressed for a while afterward.
  • Use humor. Find a funny movie or book or podcast or whatever and laugh. Laughter truly is the best medicine. Your brain cannot focus on two things at once; if you are laughing about something, it’s difficult to be focused on your stress. My favorite is ‘Who’s on first’ by Abbott & Costello. A humorous book is ‘My Middle-Aged Baby Book’ by Mary-Lou Weisman.

Ways to Reduce Caregiver Stress

-Prioritize – make a list of what must be done and focus on how to accomplish only these.

-Delegate – Use your list of tasks and decide who else besides you can do those things.

-Set realistic goals – What can you accomplish Today? Maybe just preparing meals, and let the laundry go to tomorrow.

-Ask for help. Be willing to accept that you can’t do it all, and ask your church, your friends, the community for assistance.

-Join a support group. You will be surprised at how helpful these groups are. People who came to my support groups often told me that listening to other participants’ situations made their own feel lighter. And you make get tips on how to cope with your situation make listening to others in the same situation.

-Give yourself one night a week off. Hire and ask a friend to stay with your care receiver while you go to a book club or the library or a movie or get a pedicure, or whatever relaxes you.  Just for a couple of hours give yourself time away and don’t allow yourself to think about your stressors during this time.

-Take your care receiver out. Plan a simple brief trip to an ice cream parlor or a nail salon or shopping or whatever the care receiver used to enjoy. There are many free places in our area to go. Getting ready to get out of the house may be stressful but often it will be worth the effort.

-Pace yourself. You have to last as long as your care receiver. Don’t allow yourself to ‘burnout’ or become so overwhelmed that you cannot provide for your care receiver. Take advantage of these suggestions, or find others that work for you.

Call Kay at 972-839-0065, and let’s talk about solutions for you and your situation.



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Caretaking versus Caring for

1.     When I caretake, I assume responsibility for meeting the needs of others – even those needs which they should be able to meet without my assistance.
When I care for, I encourage my care receivers to do for themselves whatever they can and applaud them for their accomplishments.

2.     When I caretake, I feel responsible for the feelings of others; I work hard to make my care receiver(s) happy.  If they are happy, I take credit; if they are sad, I feel guilty because it must be my fault.
When I care for, I recognize that my behavior affects others. But I know it is their reaction to my behavior, or other factors in their life, that produces their negative feelings; therefore, I do not assume responsibility for their emotions.

3.     When I caretake, I expect others to live up to my expectations. If their expectations are different, I am disappointed and get upset.
When I care for, I make few demands of others; if their behavior goes against my expectations, I am not upset.

4.     When I caretake, I try to manipulate others into doing things my way. If it turns out right I take credit. If it turns out badly, I feel guilty.
When I care for, I give others freedom to make their own mistakes, and feel no blame when they do make mistakes.

5.     When I caretake, I focus so much on the needs of others that I neglect my own needs – maybe even lose a healthy sense of what my needs are.
When I care for, I am aware of my needs and plan ways to get my needs met.

6.     When I caretake, I see others as an extension of myself, not as they really are. The boundaries between my issues and theirs are blurred.
When I care for, I recognize my boundaries and can see their needs and feelings as separate from mine, and see others for themselves.

7.     When I caretake, I often feel tired, burdened, and resentful because so much of my energy is tied up in the welfare of others.
When I care for, I have more energy for myself.

I highly recommend the book, Boundaries, by Cloud and Townsend. It is written from a Christian point of view but the advice is excellent. The book explains the concept of boundaries and how we can confuse our needs with those of the people we love, and then become frustrated when their needs are not met. When our boundaries are blurred, we confuse their pain as our pain. This excellent book is in most libraries and can be ordered online.

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