When caregiving for a loved one, the first steps include identifying what to do. For example, if your parents’ financial affairs are not in order, they may consider creating a will or a trust. Or if your aunt is having trouble walking, she could go to the doctor and find out how to best address that.
However, how to get these things done is where the challenge for family caregivers often lies. Oftentimes, you may hear, “My parents don’t like to talk about money with us kids, so they won’t tell us anything,” or “My aunt says everything is fine, and she doesn’t need to bother the doctor when she is just growing old.” In these types of situations, the family usually knows what needs to be done to prepare – but having the conversation can be stressful.
At Keiro’s 2022 Caregiver Conference, Iyashi Care social worker Kanako Fukuyama and clinical manager Andrea Strouth shared tips for navigating through difficult conversations.
In these situations, “I” statements can be a very powerful tool. “I” statements focus on the speaker’s feelings and beliefs. Kanako explained, “Using ‘I’ statements can often lead to more productive, effective conversations because the speaker shares their thoughts, rather than projecting on or telling the other person what to do. ‘You’ statements often cause people to shut down, because they can sound accusatory or bossy.” A common format for an “I” statement is, “I feel [emotion] when [situation or observation] happens.”
Andrea and Kanako shared a common scenario they see regularly among Iyashi Care patients and families. In this situation, both elderly parents are living at home, with chronic conditions. As their mobility and memory decline, they cannot keep up as well with housekeeping and other personal care activities. Their adult children are concerned about their safety and encourage them to hire in-home care. However, the parents are refusing and say that everything is daijobu (fine). Every time the children bring up extra help, their parents refuse to listen and everyone involved gets very frustrated.
Some “You” statements in response to this situation could be:
- “Dad, you can’t take care of mom by yourself anymore.”
- “Mom, you left the stove after you were done cooking several times already. You shouldn’t be cooking anymore, or else you’re going to start a fire one day.”
A sample “I” statement could be:
- “I feel concerned for you and mom when you refuse extra help. I am afraid of both of you getting hurt. I feel like help from an in-home caregiver would benefit both of you and keep you safe. Our family wants to support your wishes to stay at home for as long as you can.”
While “I” statements likely will not address communication challenges right away, they are a useful starting point for having constructive conversations about difficult topics because they can create a non-judgmental space. If used over time, they can hopefully lead to more open conversations amongst family and friends – and addressing how to get things done.
If family caregivers feel they could use additional support, Iyashi Care may be able to assist. Sometimes, having a neutral third party facilitate care conversations with a family can help everyone feel heard. In addition to supporting older adults with serious or chronic illnesses, the Iyashi Care team provides advance care planning and family counseling as they collectively pursue the best quality of life possible.