Communicating more effectively with the person you’re caring for

By Vivienne Epstein

It is through our communication that we establish relationships. Think about all of the relationships you have and consider all of the different ways you communicate with your spouse or partner, children, family members, friends, health care providers, communities, and the person(s) in your care.

Effective communication with a caregiver includes using language as a back and forth dialogue of ideas, thoughts, and needs of the patient.

Through our communication with others we share our ideas, thoughts, memories, needs, hopes, wishes, concerns, and fears. It is what makes us human.

As a caregiver, you want to be able to share with others through conversation. Ideally, you know what the person in your care needs and in return, the person in your care trusts you to meet those needs. This is why communication skills are an extremely important aspect of caregiving.

How communication works

Think for a moment and reflect on the question: What is communication?

Communication is the process through which information is exchanged back and forth between individuals.

Think about two people in conversation: One person is the communicator sharing information, while the other is the listener or the “communication partner” receiving the information.

Over the course of a conversation we switch back and forth between these roles without even thinking. In one moment, you are speaking to the person and in the next moment, you are listening to that person.

Do you ever stop to think about the switch in your role? Or how remarkable it is that you are able to express your thoughts through conversation with a person and then, without noticing, you are able to interpret what your “conversation partner” shares with you?

So how did you do that? How did you express your thoughts to a person and how did he or she interpret or understand what you said?

Communication is indeed one of the most complex human functions. As humans, we have acquired a complicated system called language for the purpose of communication. Only the human brain has developed such an advanced communication system that gives us the capacity to use language as a means of communication.

As infants we naturally start to learn the language that surrounds us. This is the way humans, no matter where we live, in what country, city, or small town, communicate through language.

Effective communication with another person includes using language as a back and forth dialogue of ideas, thoughts, and needs.

Caregiver communication skills

Now, let us consider how we use language as caregivers.

Language has four different components that are used to communicate:

Speaking: Saying the words needed to clearly convey your message to the person in your care.

Understanding and Listening: Interpreting and understanding what the person in your care is saying. (This is not always an easy process if the person has a speaking difficulty).

Writing: Writing out the message you need to communicate. Texting is a good example of written communication. You may need to write instructions to other caregivers or even to the person in your care, whether this is by hand, e-mail, or text message. (This requires that the person in your care is able to read written information).

Reading: Understanding a written message. There may be times as a caregiver that you will need to read notes and instructions provided by health care professionals or by the person in your care. At other times you may need to do your own research by reading articles related to caregiving or the health condition of the person in your care. You may also provide written information or a brochure to the person in your care.

When fully functional, these four components of language enable us to communicate with one another. In most caregiving situations you will likely need to use all four language components to fully understand and address the needs of the person in your care.

Reflecting on our communication skills

With a better understanding of how we use the components of language in order to communicate, think about what makes you a good communicator. In what ways could you improve your communications skills? In addition to the use of language, consider other ways that you can communicate. What is the impact of a smile, a hand gesture, or a special photograph?

In conclusion, remember that good communication skills will benefit all of your relationships. We have all experienced being successful communicators in some situations and ineffective communicators in other situations.

Food for thought: Do you often get your ideas across effectively? Do you fully understand what the person in your care is trying to express to you?

Vivienne Epstein is a contributor for – this article is reprinted with permission.