8 Ways to Improve Communication with Your Loved One’s Care Team

Prepare in advance to get the information you need.

Posted in , Apr 21, 2021

A woman having a conversation with a nurse; Getty Images

Julie Hayes is the Content Manager at Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging.

As your loved one’s caregiver, you have no doubt assumed a central position in any discussions with his or her healthcare team. You are often relied upon to effectively communicate and to make decisions on behalf of the older adult in your care. It can be difficult to understand the medical terminology that’s being thrown your way. You might feel that you’re pestering these busy professionals when you ask for clarifications or additional information. But it’s important to rise to the challenge.

Your loved one’s care is a team effort, and his or her well-being depends upon your valuable, informed input. When you communicate in a self-assured and thoughtful manner, it can help you to build a rapport with the care team in order to come away with as much knowledge and understanding as possible. Following are some tips to better communicate with your loved one’s care team:

1. Arm yourself with information
It’s beneficial to learn as much as you can about your loved one’s particular illness or chronic condition before you meet with the care team. You don’t have to be a medical scholar to do this. It just helps to do some research. Gathering information in advance allows you to have questions and discussion topics ready, and you’ll know more about your options.    

2. Build a relationship with the care team
It’s vital that your loved one receive proper care, and a major factor to that end is that you feel a high level of trust and comfort with the healthcare team. It can help greatly during initial meetings to introduce yourself to the team members and to explain your role as a caregiver. It can help as well to ask them about their background and credentials. Consider whether you feel that they’re listening to and respecting you, and whether your loved one seems to feel safe and comfortable with them as the care journey progresses.

3. Keep a record of your loved one’s situation and needs
The care team doesn’t have the same access to your loved one that you do, so they can’t possibly know all that you do about his or her behaviors at home and elsewhere or about any particular challenges being faced. When you maintain a record of such issues, it helps you to remember what you want to discuss during appointments.

4. Don’t be embarrassed to pose questions
Chances are, you have tons of questions swimming through your mind, but you’re reluctant to actually voice them. You tell yourself the care team is too busy for your questions, and might find them ridiculous. The truth is that any decent medical professionals realize you’re not an expert and won’t belittle you for asking questions. Keep in mind that knowledge is power. Getting good answers to your questions allows you to start care planning with the information you need.

5. Take an assertive, rather than combative, approach
As your loved one’s care advocate, you naturally want to be listened to and respected. It’s important, therefore, to be vocal about any concerns you may have. While you need to feel comfortable with the care team, however, they also need to feel comfortable with you. Being assertive is helpful. Being aggressive or combative, on the other hand, can lead to conflict which can distract from and complicate your loved one’s care.
6. Jot down notes before, during and after appointments
It’s easy to get lost in a sea of information when you meet with the care team, and to realize later that crucial questions had slipped your mind. Prior to any discussion, make notes of all that you want to bring up during the meeting. As the conversation progresses, it also helps to keep notes on answers to your questions, and on any valuable information that arises. Once you’re finished, you might also want to jot down a list of any further to-dos.

7. Find out how to access resources
Much of your loved one’s care journey takes place outside of medical offices. If you need information on how to move forward or where to turn next, your care team can help point you in the right direction, whether for respite services, home health care, care coaching services such as Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging’s WeCare…because you do, disease-specific organizations or support groups.

8. Make changes if necessary
It’s possible that a particular healthcare professional may not be right for your loved one. If either of you feels that the fit isn’t working out to everyone’s benefit, you can always step back, reassess and explore different approaches.

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