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Posted: July 20, 2005

Professional Caregiving

Facilitating Family Caregiver Communication

How often do we provide an environment that promotes open discussion with our family caregivers so they feel comfortable saying what they are thinking? 

Are we giving them the necessary openings to speak their mind, or do they leave meetings or get off phone conversations muttering that they didn’t feel listened to?

If we flip the scenario, what seems to block your willingness to speak your mind, in advocacy of your family member for whom another provides care?

I have written on this topic on a number of occasions from a coaching perspective, but after hearing a wise community leader -- let’s call her Ruth -- discussing this concept in relation to her own missteps, I thought to bring the scenario to you. What occurred to this strong and charismatic leader can help us address the importance of ensuring that care receivers and their family caregivers have the openings they need to advocate for what is right and tell us what is on their mind. 

Ruth told us a story that helped her see how powerless she was to address the real issues because of some emotional distractions of the moment.  This relates to us as care providers and also as those who deal with families needing sometimes to intervene, and we may close the bridge before they take the step to address something that concerns us.


She has worked very hard to develop a bond between two politically disparate groups in our community. There were a number of serious trust issues that had to be resolved in order for the two groups to come together with a positive, hopeful outlook, open to understanding and hearing each other’s issues, both political and personal.  It took a lot of work and good faith to make this happen.


This is comparable to the work we do to ensure that our clients and families trust us, trust that communication lines are open. To provide the best care, we need to encourage discourse on the care provided in our setting as it relates to our clients and their families. Some families come to us in the wake of upsetting experiences they may see a barrier: It is US against THEM, and only we can demonstrate that this "wall" does not and should not exist in our communications.


The other night, a representative from one group’s political party addressed the public on the some divisive issues facing both groups.  Ruth invited some members from the other party to participate in this open discussion. She wanted to demonstrate that both sides could discuss these issues openly, as her own group had. To general dismay, the presentation and some extreme thinkers in the audience heightened the harsh realities and prejudices that had been woven into this very complex topic.


The community leader was not only disappointed, but stunned at the harsh talk among a few attendees. She saw it as hurtful to her friends whom she had invited that evening.  The distraction of the evening and the upset from the antagonists in the audience overwhelmed her.


She regretted and later apologized for a community leader, a bridge-builder among various groups, who was too distracted by the emotion of the evening to stand up and take issue with the extreme opinions of the evening.


This compares with how caregivers often feel we, as providers, are on the other side of the fence, and they are frustrated not feeling welcome to say what is truly on their minds, be heard, or have their needs adequately considered. The result can be the loss of a valuable commodity, open communication and trust.


My friend was carried away by the emotion and psychological upset of the moment, which removed her away from a role she would have normally played, as a facilitator of consensus. How often do our caregivers feel this way?


Hopefully, not too often.


Sylvia Nissenboim is a licensed clinical social worker and who has been working in the field of adult day services in the St. Louis area. She is the director of four adult care and enrichment centers for the American Red Cross and also operates a personal and professional coaching firm, LifeWork Transitions, specializing in caregiving concerns, adult day care management and other aging services, such as virtual coaching and family care giving support groups. She co-authored The Positive Interactions Program, is a national speaker, and has served as president of the Missouri Adult Day Care Association and as a member of the Missouri Governor's Advisory Council on Aging..

© 2005 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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