Have you ever walked in to the office or a get-together with friends or family and had an individual say to you with great concern, “You really look tired today!” While you might have been feeling relatively perky preceding that moment, unexpectedly you really DO feel worn out and rundown. The words we speak to others and the way we interpret them are meaningful. And when speaking with those with a medical condition, it is imperative to carefully consider what to express, and possibly most importantly, what NOT to say, to help the person feel his or her best.
While we’re undoubtedly well meaning, there are certain sentiments that are 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.”
Following are several statements to remove from your own vernacular when chatting with individuals faced with a health crisis:
- “My uncle had a similar medical diagnosis and was in poor health for months.” Discussing adverse stories about an individual with a similar diagnosis is a surefire way to bring the person’s spirits down. Alternatively, understand that each person experiences health conditions in different ways, and concentrate on the positives the person you’re speaking to has achieved.
- “If you’d only stopped smoking (or exercised; or followed a healthier diet; etc.) this wouldn’t have happened.” It is impossible to know whether the result might have been different if healthier choices had been made, and there’s no benefit to playing “what if.” Focus your attention instead on providing the support and compassion the person needs today, and leave any feelings of judgment at the door.
- “Do you recall…?” Specific to people who have dementia or other cognitive impairment, memory prompts along these lines can add to the frustration and agitation already experienced. Sharing stories from times gone by just as if they’re brand new is a good option to engage the person instead.
Your absolute best bet is to enable the individual to communicate (or not to share) about his or her experience and thoughts, hold the person’s hand if it’s welcome, give a bright bouquet of flowers or any other small present or treat, and extend your warm, loving presence and encouragement.
To get more detailed care tips, and for hands-on assistance with skilled care within the comfort of home, reach out to JFS Care — Jewish Family Services in Los Angeles. We can provide expert, caring services for those experiencing a medical crisis that deliver comfort and peace, through companionship, assistance with daily meals and household chores, transportation to doctor appointments and procedures, running errands, and so much more. Give us a call at (213) 383-2273 to let us know how our home health aides in Los Angeles and the surrounding areas are able to help. Click here to view our full senior care service area.