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Meaningful Conversations About End of Life Care

Jun 2, 2017 by Kristina Butler

We are surrounded by noise. People talking, radios blasting, televisions blaring, people gabbing into their phones.... Despite the constant barrage of input, those facing the end of their life may feel alone, forgotten, and highly isolated. Too often, when a senior reaches the end of their life, people talk about them, to them, or at them, but the "with them" seems to be forgotten.

Rarely is it bad intentions that keep meaningful conversations at bay. Instead, loved ones often do not know what to say, and many times seniors are not able to effectively communicate their needs and desires. Even so, and despite the challenges, the meaningful conversation is often the most important component of end of life care.

In order to fully appreciate the term "meaningful conversation" we must take a moment to consider what it actually means; e.g. what does "meaningful" mean, and who determines whether a conversation is meaningful or not?

The word meaningful can be defined as "having a serious, important, or useful quality or purpose", but it can also mean "communicating something that is not directly expressed" such as a meaningful glance or having a meaningful relationship. In the context of end of life care, both are important pieces of the communication puzzle. More importantly, however, the value or meaningfulness of the conversation is always determined by the senior.

A loved one, caregiver, hospice worker, or doctor may have something that they believe is extremely important to share, but in the context of end of life conversations, the communication is not "meaningful" unless it has value to the senior. This can be extremely frustrating for those who feel an urgency to talk about specific topics, discuss death and dying, or follow a set protocol or structured discourse. The most important thing to remember, however, is that the end of life conversations are not about you, but about enhancing the quality of life of the senior.

For many seniors facing the end of their life, the greatest disconnect comes with the word conversation. A conversation implies the exchange of information. Therefore, meaningful conversations are not soliloquies, speeches, dissertations, or times spent explaining things to a senior (or, worse, to another person in the room while ignoring the senior). In reality, a conversation does not require a single word. What it does require are interaction and connection.

If understanding meaningful end of life care conversations seem difficult, consider that sometimes the most meaningful conversations we have are shared through a touch, a glance, a smile, or an act of kindness. Meaningful conversations do not need to be long, intense, or even verbal. They simply need to be focused, with a direct exchange of information that is of value to the senior.

If your senior loved one is facing an end of life situation, remember the value of meaningful communication. Even more, remember that the secret to this communication is taking the time to connect with the senior on a personal level. Listen and learn what is important to them, and respond back in a way that is germane and significant. When conducted with compassion, care, and love, few things are more worthwhile. 

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