Have you ever walked into the office or a get-together with friends or family and had someone say to you with great concern, “You really look tired today!” Although you were feeling pretty perky prior to that moment, without warning you really DO feel tired and rundown. The words we speak to each other and the way we interpret them are meaningful. When addressing those with long-term health issues, it is crucial to thoughtfully consider what to say, and perhaps most importantly, what NOT to say, that can help the individual feel his or her best.
While we are genuinely well-meaning, a number of comments can be better left unsaid. Blurting out a less-than-sensitive remark, according to Mindy Beth Lipson, a Phoenix psychologist, happens 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.”
The following are several statements to remove from your own vernacular when chatting with individuals facing health issues:
- “My friend had a similar medical diagnosis and was sick for months.” Discussing negative stories about someone with an identical medical diagnosis is a surefire way to bring the person’s spirits down. As an alternative, bear in mind each individual goes through medical conditions in different ways, and concentrate on the positives the individual you’re speaking with has achieved.
- “If you’d only stopped smoking (or exercised, or followed a healthy eating plan, etc.) this couldn’t have happened.” It’s impossible to know whether the result might have been different if healthier options were made, and there’s no benefit to playing “what if.” Focus your attention instead on giving the help and empathy the person needs today, and leave any thoughts of judgment at the door.
- “Do you recall…?” Specific to people who have dementia or other cognitive impairment, memory prompts such as this can elevate the frustration and agitation already experienced. Discussing stories from the past as if they’re brand-new is a good method to engage the individual instead.
Your absolute best bet is to allow the individual the chance to share (or not to share) about his/her experience and feelings, hold the person’s hand if it is welcome, provide a pretty bouquet of flowers or another small gift or treat, and just offer your warm, loving presence and encouragement.
For personal care in Atlanta and the surrounding area, and for hands-on assistance with skilled care within the comfort of home, contact Atlanta Home Care Partners. We can provide experienced, caring assistance for individuals confronted with health issues, delivering comfort and peace through companionship, help with meals and housework, transportation to medical appointments and procedures, running errands, and more. Call us at (404) 228-0103 to find out how we can help.