If you are a health care professional working in a long-term care facility or the family member of a loved one living in a nursing home, compassion is a critical part of helping people cope. However, understanding what people with chronic illnesses really think compassion is and what you can do to demonstrate it can be difficult.  A study in Health Expectations investigated just that. The study looked at what people who are ill really want to see and hear.

What Constitutes Compassion in Health Care Settings

The study focused on three key areas:

  1. Recognizing the suffering the person is experiencing
  2. Making an emotional connection to the person experiencing the illness
  3. Addressing the suffering they are feeling

The research was conducted at the University of Rochester Medical Center over an eight month period. They recorded and cataloged instances of compassionate communication between 23 Rochester-area oncologists and 49 critically ill cancer patients.

How to Demonstrate Compassion

For family members and health care professionals, watching someone suffer day in and day out can be emotionally draining. You may find yourself shutting out their pain and not acknowledging it as a way of coping with what you see and the frustration you feel at not being able to do more to help. Patients and long-term care residents need caregivers to acknowledge and address the fact that they are in pain and hurting.

So what can you do to demonstrate compassion?

  1. Watch your tone of voice. It can be used to demonstrate that you know they are suffering or just the opposite.
  2. Show a sense of humor. One example demonstrated in the study was a physician using humor with a patient who complained about side effects of a drug patch used for pain. The physician responded with “Who wants a patch that makes you drowsy, constipated and fuzzy? I’ll pass, thank you very much.” It showed he understood and acknowledged how the patient felt.
  3. Pay attention to your non-verbal communication skills. Pauses and signs can reflect empathy or they can make a patient or resident feel as if they are a burden.

Above all remember that compassion is not a one-time show of support. It is a repeated demonstration of empathy, kindness and understanding.