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Communicating Constructively

Being able to communicate constructively is one of a caregiver's most important tools. When you communicate in ways that are clear, assertive and constructive, you will have a better chance of being heard and get the help and support you need. Learning more about the illness that your loved one has may help you to communicate better with them. Contact the support organisations to find out more.

Communication Guidelines

Use "I" messages rather than "you" messages. Saying "I feel angry" rather than "You made me angry" enables you to express your feelings without blaming others or causing them to become defensive.

Respect the rights and feelings of others. Do not say something that will violate another person's rights or intentionally hurt the person's feelings. Recognize that the other person has the right to express feelings.

Be clear and specific. Speak directly to the person. Don't hint or hope the person will guess what you need. Other people are not mind readers. When you speak directly about what you need or feel, you are taking the risk that the other person might disagree or say no to your request, but that action also shows respect for the other person's opinion. When both parties speak directly, the chances of reaching understanding are greater.

Be a good listener. Listening is the most important aspect of communication.

Asking for and Accepting Help

When people have asked if they can be of help to you, how often have you replied, "Thank you, but I'm fine." Many carers are reluctant to take up offers of help. You may not wish to burden others or admit that you can't handle everything yourself.

Be prepared with a mental list of ways that others could help you. For example, could someone take the person you care for on a 15-minute walk a couple of times a week? Could your neighbour pick up a few things for you at the supermarket or could a relative fill out some insurance papers? When you break down the jobs into very simple tasks, it is easier for people to help.

Help can come from community resources, family, friends and professionals. Ask them. Don't wait until you are overwhelmed and exhausted or your health fails. Reaching out for help when you need it is a sign of personal strength. 

Tips on How to Ask

Consider the person's special abilities and interests. If you know a friend enjoys cooking but dislikes driving, your chances of getting help improve if you ask for help with meal preparation.
Resist asking the same person repeatedly. Do you keep asking the same person because she has trouble saying no? Pick the best time to make a request. Timing is important. A person who is tired and stressed might not be available to help out. Wait for a better time. Prepare a list of things that need doing. The list might include errands, housework, or a visit with your loved one. Let the "helper" choose what they would like to do.

Be prepared for someone hesitating or refusing your request. It can be upsetting for the caregiver when a person is unable or unwilling to help. But in the long run, it would do more harm to the relationship if the person helps only because they don’t want to upset you. To the person who seems hesitant, simply say, "Why don't you think about it." Try not to take it personally when a request is turned down. The person is turning down the task, not you. Try not to let a refusal prevent you from asking for help again. The person who refused today may be happy to help at another time.

Avoid weakening your request. "It's only a thought, but is there any chance you could stay with Mam while I went to mass?" This request sounds like it's not very important to you. Use "I" statements to make specific requests: "I would like to go to mass on Sunday. Would you please stay with Mam from 11 - 12pm?"