How to Talk with Family and Friends About Caregiving Challenges

Anne Ziff, author of Your End of Life Matters: How to Talk with Family and Friends, offers five tips for talking.
Posted by The Arbors on Nov 16, 2018 8:00:00 AM

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It’s not easy to talk with family and friends about caregiving challenges. You and your loved one are in this together, but your experiences and roles are very different.

For example, your aging loved one might be frustrated that they need help paying bills or managing medications, and you might feel stressed because you’ve had to cut back on personal spending to meet caregiving expenses or lonely because you’ve stopped nurturing your social life because you’ve become consumed with caregiving duties.

You may also find it hard to speak with family and friends about what you need in the way of help, and/or how you’re feeling. You may not feel comfortable talking about your own needs when you’re not the one with dementia or a chronic illness that’s worsening.

Plus, Anne Ziff says you’re probably both in denial.

Your End of Life Matters

Ziff is an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York, a licensed marriage and family therapist, and the author of Your End of Life Matters: How to Talk with Family and Friends.

“Historically, it has been widely common for people to act as if death isn’t going to happen to them, and if they talk about it, maybe they’ll die now,” Ziff says. “I have a cartoon featuring Snoopy and Charlie Brown on my desk. They’re sitting on the end of a dock, looking off into the distance. You can only see the back of their heads. Charlie Brown says, ‘Someday we will all die, Snoopy.’ And Snoopy says, ‘True, but on all the other days, we will not.’

“That’s really the key to talking about caregiving challenges and end-of-life matters,” Ziff continues. “You’re not having these conversations because your parents are going to die tomorrow. You’re having them because they’re going to live for a long time, but one day, they will die, and you want to know the things that matter to them are being considered.”

5 Tips for Talking

Whether you need to talk about treatment and care decisions, changing roles, changes to your social life, caregiver stress and burnout, or negative feelings such as anger, fear, and uncertainty, here are some tips for talking with the person you are caring for and others on the caregiving team.

1. Set Aside Time to Talk

Find a time when you can talk without interruptions. Ask if it’s a good time before you start a talk, and be clear about why you want to talk and what you hope will come from it.

2. Think About What You Want to Say

You want to speak from your heart, but you should also think about what you want to say ahead of time. It might even help to practice using “I” statements, such as “I have a hard time talking about this, too.”

3. Be Calm and Patient

If the other person seems to have misunderstood, try explaining what you meant with different words. Then allow the other person to talk. When they’re talking, listen, and when they’re done, summarize what the other person has said to be sure that you have understood.

4. Don’t Play the Blame Game

Your loved one might have a hard time hearing what you’re saying, and vice versa. Try to not get angry or blame others for your feelings, but don’t feel like you have to say, “It’ll be OK,” either.

5. Plan to Have Another Conversation

There’s really no such thing as “The Talk.” Rather, it’s more like a series of conversations. Although it may be hard in the beginning, it will get easier if everyone is open and honest about their feelings.

Solutions to Common Caregiving Challenges

Caregiving for someone you love can be emotionally charged and sometimes frustrating, and there is no quick fix to the caregiving challenges that arise. But there are some general resources, conversation starters, and conflict diffusers that can help.

Download our Solutions to Common Caregiving Challenges eBook to learn about how to deal with a parent who is resistant to help, how to get more caregiving help from your siblings, and how to keep your job while caregiving.

11 Most Common Caregiving Challenges