Skip to main content

Understanding Behavior

Empathy & Communication

One of the most difficult things to do is to empathize with the loss of what many people consider to be a basic function—a function that an affected person is unaware they have lost and may be unwilling to receive help for.

A person with Huntington’s Disease is fully aware of what’s going on around them. Just because they may seem a little different than they used to doesn’t mean they can’t tell when someone feels empathy for their challenges or when someone has negative feelings toward them. It’s important to keep in mind the person with HD is doing his or her best whether or not you always see that effort.

Some actions that demonstrate empathy include:

  • Attending to how the other person feels more than how he or she acts. Don’t hesitate to ask about what he or she is feeling instead of guessing.

  • Avoid thought content you can’t agree with—facts aren’t as important as the emotions they create.

  • Listen actively and reflect your understanding in words rather than assume the person with HD understands your nonverbal behavior.

  • Use “I statements” rather than “you statements.” For instance, “I feel hurt when you’re angry with me,” as opposed to, “You make me so angry!”

Frequent attributing factors for a disruption in communication include:

  • Asking “why?”

  • Changing the subject.

  • Defending yourself or arguing with the person with HD.

  • Giving false or insincere encouragement.

  • Overcorrecting.

  • Using “you statements.”

Lastly, some of the factors that affect behavior that you should be aware of include:

  • Ability to communicate.

  • Available community resources such as financial, social, or healthcare resources.

  • Awareness of symptoms.

  • Behavior and needs of others—especially the caregiver and the patient’s children.

  • Emotional state.

  • Family beliefs.

  • Health factors such as hunger, fatigue, thirst, pain, medical illness, or injury.

  • Stage of the disease.

If you have more questions about empathy and communication as it relates to patients with HD, contact us.