“Conversation is a meeting of minds with different memories and habits. When minds meet, they don’t just exchange facts: they transform them, reshape them, draw different implications from them, engage in new trains of thought. Conversation doesn’t just reshuffle the cards: it creates new cards.” — Theodore Zeldin
A great conversation can be invigorating, exciting, comforting, and informative, all at once especially when you’re talking with someone with decades of experience, knowledge, and memories to draw on.
Our companions often say that getting the chance to speak one-on-one with their senior clients is a highlight of the day, and family caregivers across the country can attest to the power of sharing stories and talking through memories with their elderly loved ones. In fact, making time to connect and share in a conversation can be one of the most enriching, rewarding, and healthy things you can do — especially for older adults.
It’s hard to overstate the profound impact that being social can have for seniors. Study upon study has demonstrated that older adults who maintain social relationships have a more positive outlook on life, experience better overall physical and mental health, and enjoy greater longevity.
What’s more, the act of reminiscing can have significant benefits for seniors in and of itself, as AgingCare explains. According to the research of Dr. Robert N. Butler, telling stories and sharing memories can give older adults the invaluable opportunity to
“…share their memories, pass on the wisdom that comes with age, better understand their lives and identities, resolve past conflicts, and connect respectfully with others on a social and often emotional level.”
As AgingCare notes, talking constructively about the past “can help reduce symptoms of depression and improve self-esteem and life satisfaction” in the elderly. Structured reminiscence can also be “a valuable method of engaging with seniors who have varying levels of cognitive impairment,” including dementia and other types of memory loss.
The bottom line? Sharing memories, telling stories, and connecting on a personal level can make older adults feel healthier and happier, while also giving you incredible insights into your loved one’s past. And all it takes to get started is the simple act of talking.
Unfortunately, we know that this is often more easily said than done.
During our new era of social distancing, it can be tricky to communicate by phone or video call. When you only have a few hours at a time with a senior loved one, it can be tricky to say all that you wish you could say — particularly when you need to navigate around any communication hurdles, like hearing loss. It can also be intimidating to ask a loved one about the past, present, or future. Sometimes, being afraid of saying the wrong thing or digging up a painful memory can put you at a loss for words.
If you’re looking for easy ways to start a conversation with your senior loved ones, it may help to go in with a few ideas prepared. This way, you can ease into the talk, knowing that you can change the subject when you need to.
Looking to have meaningful conversations that go beyond small talk or the weather? Here are a few types of conversation starters that can help you deepen your relationship with your senior friends and family:
Talking About Childhood
Asking questions about when your loved one was young can give you a glimpse into their past, and offer you a better understanding of your family’s history. It’s also an easy way to get many people to open up and start sharing, since childhood memories are often the most vivid and accessible, even decades later. Here are a few topics and conversation starters to try:
- Where were you born? Can you describe the town or neighborhood you grew up in?
- What’s the story behind your name?
- What was your first job?
- What did you do for fun when you were a child?
- What were your childhood favorites — food, movie, game, colors?
- What inventions, fads, or world events do you remember most vividly?
- What is your earliest memory?
- Who were your best friends growing up? What were they like?
- What was your childhood home like?
Talking About Family and Life Events
If your senior loved one is a bit reticent to talk about themselves, try asking them questions about other people in your family, or get their experiences and accounts of major milestones and world events. Try asking questions such as:
- What do you remember most about your parents or grandparents?
- How did you meet your spouse? What first drew you together? How did you get engaged?
- How did you choose your children’s names?
- What’s something funny that one of your kids did while they were growing up?
- What’s the most memorable vacation or trip you ever took?
- What is the biggest purchase you’ve ever made?
- When is the proudest you’ve ever felt?
- What is the best place you’ve ever lived?
- What job or workplace do you remember the most vividly? What’s your favorite story from your career?
- What’s the best life advice you’ve ever gotten? Where did you hear it?
- What are your favorite holidays? Is there a special party or celebration that sticks out to you?
Talking About Their Values and Identity
You can get a great sense of how your senior loved one views themselves and sees the world, without having to delve into thorny topics like politics or religion. Here are a few conversation starters that can help your older loved ones open up about their values and identity:
- What happened on the best day of your life?
- Who in your family do you feel that you’re the most like? How are you and I similar, or different?
- Do you have a favorite saying or expression?
- If you could have three wishes, what would they be?
- What’s the highest compliment or praise you’ve ever received?
- What is your most treasured possession?
- What family traditions do you always want to remember and keep alive?
- What do you think are some of your best qualities?
- If you suddenly received a million dollars, what would you do with it?
- Have your dreams or goals changed at all throughout your life?
Talking About the Present
Whether you’re stopping in for a holiday visit or checking in with your senior loved one over email, asking about their day-to-day experiences can be a great way to get a sense of their health and state of mind. Here are a few easy, interesting questions that can lead to broader discussions about your loved one’s daily habits and routines:
- Do you have any hobbies or interests that you’ve been enjoying lately?
- Who do you see most often?
- What’s the best part of your typical day?
- Are there any fun events or activities you’re looking forward to?
- What things in life would you say are the most important to you now? Why?
- What do you think has stayed the same about you throughout life? What has changed the most?
- What was the last book, album, or movie that you enjoyed?
Talking About Aging, Life Lessons, and Legacy
While you may want to avoid heavy topics that might make your loved one sad, you may also be surprised by how much older adults want to impart the lessons that they’ve learned and share their thoughts and opinions. Many seniors are happy to be open and honest about their perspectives on life and growing older, especially when they’re talking with someone they trust and who is truly listening. Here are a few ways to start talking openly about your loved one’s lifetime and legacy:
- What ages in your life do you remember most vividly? How was each decade different than the ones before it?
- If you could divide your life up into chapters, how would you set up the story? What would the chapter titles be?
- What have been some of the most formative or influential moments in your life?
- What does it mean to be successful, in your opinion?
- If someone were to ask you how to lead a “good” life, what advice would you give?
- What has been the best thing about growing older? How has growing up matched up with your expectations — and how has it been different?
- What do you think is the most different about the present, compared to when you were my age?
- How would you summarize your philosophy on life?
- What is the best thing about being a parent or grandparent?
Helping Your Elderly Loved One Stay Social
It’s crucial for older adults aging in place to get the support and personalized attention they need. For caregivers, it’s essential to take a break and get outside help from time to time, so that you can get the rest and relaxation you deserve.
As a result, companion care is a great fit for many seniors and family caregivers. In this arrangement, a professional companion can spend time with your senior loved one on a flexible schedule that suits the senior, and works for your needs as a family caregiver.
Companions can assist older adults in many different ways, including providing aid with activities of daily living (ADLs); helping with laundry, meal prep, and light housekeeping; and offering driving services to appointments and social gatherings.
Even more importantly? In many cases, a senior companion becomes a friend and confidant for an older adult. Companions can be there to share meals, play games, go for walks, and generally help ensure that a senior’s life is full of friendship, attention, and care.
Whether a companion comes by every day or a few times per month, there’s no telling how much a senior might benefit from having someone friendly and trustworthy in their life.
Looking for other ways to help your elderly loved one remain social? Here are a few of our guides and articles that may help:
Ready to Help Your Senior Loved One? We’re Here for You
Curious about how you can best empower your senior loved ones to remain active and social? Looking for senior companionship services in the Chicagoland area?
If you have any questions about caring for the older adult in your life, don’t hesitate to reach out to Companions for Seniors! We’d be happy to be your sounding board, share our experiences, and talk over any questions or concerns you may have about any aspect of providing care for your aging loved ones.
Our companions are trained and bonded, and can help your family shoulder some of the responsibility of caring for an aging loved one. We help provide seniors with a higher quality of life, while also offering respite and peace of mind for a family caregiver who might need some support. Our companions help stimulate our clients physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, empowering them to live an active, independent, and enriched lifestyle.
We don’t call it work; we call it friendship. Our companions are eager and enthusiastic to help seniors enjoy life to the fullest.
Have any questions about Companions for Seniors? Want to get in touch? Don’t hesitate to give us a call at 866-910-9020, or reach out online by filling out our contact form, available here.