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Family Caregiver Support: The Role of AAC in Narrowing the Communication Gap

Elderly person and caregiver

Caregivers are the unsung heroes who spend their time and energy making life easier for those they look after. Caring for a person with complex communication needs requires a lot of dedication and patience. In many cases, family members act as caregivers and tend to ignore their own emotions and needs for the sake of their loved ones. So, It is important that we prioritize caregiver support and rally around them as a society by providing them with the necessary resources.

Most discussions on assistive technology (AT) revolve around how it can help people with disabilities. In this post, we’d like to shift the focus to how AT including AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) can lighten the load of caregiver responsibilities. Evidence suggests that AAC helps caregivers by giving them a better understanding of the needs of people with communication difficulties.

Prevents Caregiver Burnout

Caregivers can get overwhelmed by the demands of providing long-term care. They can experience burnout which is a state of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. It is, therefore, important to ensure that the family member often gets to take a break from caregiver duties, and indulges in self-care.

In the absence of AAC, people with communication challenges may be understood only by a few.  This results in them developing a heavy reliance on the primary caregiver as they may be the sole provider of physical and emotional support. This constant dependence can put enormous strain on the caregiver. 

AAC helps with comprehension and expands the possibilities of interaction with a wider range of communication partners. It also enables those with communication challenges to develop independence while they foster and maintain a variety of relationships. This allows the caregiver to enlist the help of other family members or friends who can share their responsibilities.

Enables Better Connection Caregiver and elderly person

Children taking care of elderly parents who have lost communication abilities later in life due to stroke or other conditions, can struggle to cope with the decline in the quality of their interactions. The same applies for spouses of older people with communication challenges. AAC can help them have meaningful exchanges which make caregiver duties less stressful and more rewarding.

AAC promotes mutuality which is defined as the maintenance of a positive relationship between the caregiver and the care-receiver. Love, shared pleasurable activities, shared values, and reciprocity are the four factors that affect mutuality. Mutuality is said to reduce role strain of the caregiver and enhance the quality of care they provide.

With AAC, people with communication challenges can be part of family activities and actively participate in conversations. They can share their stories and talk about common interests. This reciprocal nature of the relationship can reduce fatigue caused by caregiver duties.

Facilitates Caregiver Preparedness 

The support required for people with complex communication needs may vary over the course of time. Preparedness is defined as the perceived knowledge about the different dimensions of caregiver responsibilities such as providing physical care and emotional support, and the readiness to deal with impending changes. 

When there is a lack of communication, caregivers have a hard time monitoring the health of those who receive care. They can find it difficult to assess medication side-effects and evaluate the extent of support needed.

With AAC, people with complex communication needs can report their discomfort or the improvement in their symptoms more clearly. This enables the caregiver to make the necessary changes in the medical care or arrange for additional support systems if required. 

Helps in Making Optimal Choices 

It can be stressful to care for a loved one who is in need of continuous support. Communication difficulties add to the problem because people with communication challenges can get frustrated when they don’t have a say or are being misunderstood while decisions or choices are being made for them. This can cause anxiety and may also increase the workload of the caregiver. 

Without proper communication, the caregiver feels a lack of control. They may feel guilty about not being able to understand the needs and wants of their loved ones. This unrealistic demand they put on themselves can ultimately wear them down.

AAC enables people with speech and language difficulties to communicate their preferences and opinions clearly. This helps take the guesswork out of the equation. Consequently, it reduces the burden on the caregiver by freeing them from the responsibility of making everyday choices on behalf of their loved one.

Family caregivers, also known as informal caregivers provide care that can match professional care provided by hospitals and nurses. However, a lack of expert guidance and knowledge can affect their care giving skills. Therefore, they must be equipped with relevant information, tools like AAC, and a reliable support system that they can fall back on at all times. 

What are your ideas about caregiver duties and responsibilities? Do you think being part of caregiver support groups can help? Please share you opinions in the comment section below.

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