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4 Ways to Approach Difficult Health Conversations

From revealing your own illness to a family member or friend to supporting an aging parent, grandparent, or other loved ones, discussing physical and mental health issues is never easy. All too often, these difficult conversations highlight behaviors or symptoms that we’d rather not acknowledge, or depend on a caregiver for a level of empathy and compassion that will take a toll all its own. While you can’t bypass the discomfort of these discussions, you can prepare for them in a way that supports your loved one and yourself.

1. Know what it is that you’re discussing.


If you’re planning for a conversation regarding a family member’s illness, it’s important to go into the discussion with as much information as possible. If you’re a formal caregiver for an aging parent or other older adult, consult their doctor or existing documentation for the initial medical advice that can help your loved one.

If you don’t have access to their health information or they don’t have an official diagnosis, seek out the best symptom checker for your needs. Input the symptoms you’ve noticed in your family member or any concerns they’ve voiced to you before to get an idea of what conditions could be causing these health issues. Armed with this information, you and the patient can face their healthcare provider with a strong knowledge base and a little less anxiety.

2. Be prepared with answers and options.


Even healthcare professionals won’t have all the answers, so a family member or non-professional caregiver can’t be expected to. Nevertheless, knowing the answers to questions your loved one may ask you or having a variety of solutions to offer them will not just make a difficult conversation a bit easier‚Äîit will highlight your willingness to support them through these health problems and help them achieve a greater quality of life despite them.

Whether you’re considering end-of-life health care for an aging parent or your spouse’s high blood pressure, prepare yourself to discuss these issues with loved ones in the most painless way possible. By having solutions or options ready to suggest, you’ll help your family member handle the impending stress that comes with difficult medical news.

3. Listen Carefully


As you make your way through this conversation, it’s important to offer support, compassion, and empathy to your loved one. This might include offering solutions, as mentioned above, or being ready to answer a series of questions about a diagnosis you’re sharing. But, even as you voice your support, it’s even more important to be a good listener. No matter how much research you’ve done or preparation you’ve gone through for the discussion at hand, you must remember that it’s a conversation, with two or more people involved. Be sure that you’re letting your loved ones express their fears or concerns as much as you’re offering advice and information, if not more so.

4. Be supportive, but support yourself, too.


You know the importance of supporting your family member or other loved one through this impending health conversation, but you may need a reminder to support yourself, too. Like with any difficult discussion, having boundaries, self-care solutions, and a support group of your own in place will help you get through the most difficult conversations you face. Let a few close friends know what you’re going through so they can chat with you afterward or talk to your therapist about your concerns. Whatever methods you choose, be sure you have something in place to support yourself and avoid compassion fatigue as you care for your aging parents, spouse, or other family members.

No matter what, discussing health problems with a loved one is going to be difficult. You may be worried about a family member’s symptoms or facing a medical condition yourself but, in either case, you’re facing a daunting task. Be as prepared as possible by seeking out health care information about the issues at hand, researching treatment options, and supporting yourself and your loved one with social support or professional help. These preparations won’t make the conversation an easy one, but they can make it as painless as possible.