Challenges of Communication
The television is
blaring. You went to all the trouble to get off work a little early
so you could stop by and see your father, and now he wonít even turn
down the TV. He stares at the screen and ignores your attempts at
conversation or answers you with a curt ďUh-huhĒ or ďHuh-uh.Ē
Finally, to your amazement and confusion, he gives you a disgusted
look, gets up, and storms out of the room.
Whatís going on here?
Communication has broken down, and you need to figure out why.
First, consider that
your dad might have a hearing problem. Hearing is a complex function
that involves a number of abilities. The mechanics of the ear have
to work correctly, or Dadís not going to catch all that youíre
Then his brain has to be
able to understand and interpret your words. This is known as
He also needs to be able
to use expressive language: he has to be able to call up the words
he needs to use when he needs to use them.
Finally, the mechanics
that enable speech must be working properly for him to speak those
words in an intelligible manner.
There may be breakdowns
at any point here, and they can be brought about by any number of
events. Sometimes itís very clear after a person has had a stroke
that her ability to converse has been severely impaired. However, a
gradual loss of hearing may go unnoticed.
Then, too, the mechanics
may be working fine but there is Ė or always has been Ė a problem
when it comes to the two of you talking with each other. Why?
Perhaps a basic personality clash. Perhaps a history of
miscommunication or misunderstanding that goes back decades.
In any case, as you well
know, communication is a critical skill for all caregivers. Your
goal is to express an idea clearly with understandable words while,
at the same time, saying it with compassion and respect.
These are suggestions to
make communication with your parent easier:
--Be sure to face Dad when youíre talking to him. Speak slowly. It
may take him a little longer to come up with the right word. Donít
jump in and finish his sentences for him.
--Identify the problem.
Begin by asking questions with only yes or no answers. Then ask
questions that canít be answered with yes or no. Take note of
how your parent responds. This will give you a better idea of your
parentís cognitive abilities.
--Donít try to communicate when youíre angry.
--Donít get distracted with unimportant details. Keep communication
--Plan what you will say.
Not just the concept, but the words, too. This will help you hear
what your parent is going to hear.
--Remember that if the time comes when verbal communication is no
longer possible, touch can be a form of communication.
--If your parent has a form of dementia, learn from the experts.
Research the field for help in communicating with a person who has
dementia. For example, if you make a statement and donít get a
response, it might be best to repeat the statement exactly instead
of paraphrasing it. Your parent may be taking time to process a
response, and a paraphrase will seem like a whole new thought.
--Try to be patient.
Remember that even in a world of cell phones, microwave meals,
instant replays, and the Internet, some things still canít be
rushed. Conversing with your parent can give you a much needed
opportunity to slow down, take a deep breath, and remember, once
again, whatís really important in life.
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