Knowing the right questions is a skill, and it’s one that all caregivers are expected to suddenly acquire the moment they enter their role. But how can you learn to be an expert question asker? This guide will help you not only to know how to ask questions so you can gather information but also record the answers so you can find it again.

Get the Tools

Few people come prepared with notetaking supplies the moment after a stroke or a traumatic brain injury. Of course, mobile phones have a notetaking capacity. If you don’t have a smartphone, ask hospital personnel for a paper and pen so you can record the doctor’s notes. You can also use the voice memo function on your phone to record an audio note if you can’t take down the words quickly.

After the first day, or if it’s not an emergency situation, carry a dedicated spiral notebook with a pen. This will be your notetaking space. It’s also a space where you can tape in pamphlets, receipts, or handouts so you can find them again.

How to be a Master Answer Keeper

Each day or appointment, you’ll start by writing the date at the top of the page. Next, you’ll list any questions you need to ask. Finally, you’ll create a list of action items. Draw an empty square next to each task you need to do (such as set up an appointment, fill a prescription, or remember to bring a sweater because the waiting room is cold) so you can put a checkmark in the box once the action is completed.

The bottom of the page is where you’ll record any notes from that day.

The next day or appointment, you’ll start a new page, but you’ll rewrite any questions or actions items that were left unasked or undone from the day before. That way, nothing will slip through the cracks.

Learn When to Ask

Your relationship with your loved one’s doctors, nurses, or speech therapists are like any other relationship. It will take time to learn each other’s patterns. Does the health specialist or speech therapist react well to getting all the questions at once instead of scattered throughout the appointment? Questions at the end of the appointment? Questions at the beginning?

Once you know, tailor your question asking to match the other person’s style to best get the information you need.

Give Them a Heads Up

Telling people that you have questions and how many goes a long way. If you begin the appointment by telling the person that you’re going to ask them three questions, you’ve set the expectation that three questions are coming their way. If they forget and start to leave the room, you can remind them that you still haven’t gotten your questions asked and answered.

It can even help to hold up the correct amount of fingers as you tick off each question so they can anticipate how many more there are to go.

Of course, this means reducing your question list to the most urgent questions. A doctor, nurse, or speech therapist probably won’t have time to answer a dozen questions.

This is where writing them down ahead of time is a vital part of the process. Not only does writing them down ensure that you won’t forget anything, but it gives you a chance to rank or combine questions so you address the most important ones first.

Getting Information from Reluctant Answer Givers

There will be times when health specialists or speech therapists will not be able to answer your question; either because they don’t know the answer yet or because it isn’t information they’re in a position to give. It can help you a lot if you inquire when they will be able to give you an answer, or a person to contact who will be able to give you the information.

Some people are always in a hurry, and it’s okay to politely point out your needs, too. Set up a question asking appointment separate from the “care” appointment or ask if you can reserve the last five minutes of the next session/appointment for questions.

Some specialists may be willing to answer quick questions via email rather than using face-to-face time, so inquire which medium would be most helpful for the other person to get you the information you need.

We’re rolling out four posts directly for caregivers for Aphasia Awareness Month. This is the first one in the series.

Image: Glenn Carstens-Peters via Unsplash