Have you ever walked in to the office or a get-together with friends or family and had someone say to you with great concern, “You really look tired today!” Even though you were feeling relatively perky prior to that moment, suddenly you really DO feel exhausted and rundown. The words we use with others in addition to the ways in which we interpret them are powerful. When addressing individuals who have a chronic health condition, it’s important to thoughtfully consider what to say, and perhaps most importantly, what NOT to say, to help the individual feel his or her best.
While we are most certainly well meaning, there are comments which are better left unsaid. Blurting out a less-than-sensitive comment, according to Mindy Beth Lipson, a Phoenix psychologist, occurs because, “I think people are just scared and nervous and don’t know how to respond. There might be several reasons, the first being it brings up their own mortality. Some people also just lack empathy.”
Following are several statements to remove from your vernacular when communicating with persons going through a health crisis:
- “My friend had a similar medical diagnosis and was sick for many months.” Sharing adverse stories about an individual with an identical medical diagnosis is a guaranteed way to bring the person’s spirits down. As an alternative, remember that each individual goes through medical conditions in different ways, and focus on the positives the person you’re speaking with has achieved.
- “If you’d only stopped smoking (or exercised; or followed a healthy eating plan; etc.) this wouldn’t have happened.” It is impossible to know if the result may have been different if healthier choices were made, and there’s no benefit to playing “what if.” Focus your attention on offering the support and compassion the individual needs right now, and leave any thoughts of judgment at the door.
- “Do you remember…?” Specific to those with dementia or other cognitive impairment, memory prompts of this nature can add to the frustration and agitation already experienced. Discussing news from the past as if it’s new is a wonderful solution to engage the individual instead.
Your very best bet is to permit the person the opportunity to talk about (or not to talk about) his or her experience and thoughts, hold the person’s hand if it’s welcome, give a pretty bouquet of flowers or other small present or treat, and just offer your affectionate, loving presence and encouragement.
To get more detailed care tips, and for hands-on advice about specialized care in the familiarity of home, call on Generations at Home. We provide expert, caring services for everyone confronted with a health crisis that delivers comfort and peace through companionship, assistance with meal preparation and housework, transportation to medical appointments and procedures, running errands, and so much more. Call us at 727-940-3414 to learn how we can help.