Many older adults may not experience meaningful, enjoyable conversations in their later years. The range of subjects can narrow, topics can repeat themselves and the necessities of old age can push away opportunities for informal chatting or earnest self-revelation.
Want to liven up your times of conversation with older adults? See if any of these ideas might be useful:
• Keep your conversations emotionally rich and interesting. Try not to always interview or evaluate.
• Sit close and look your conversational partner in the eyes.
• Unless your partner is hard-of-hearing, don’t raise your voice or use a tone reminiscent of talking to a child.
• If you encounter the same stories each time you visit, pick out one facet of a now-familiar tale and help the story-teller expand on it. Every story has other stories embedded in it!
• When you sense even the slightest invitation to laugh, respond heartily and add an appreciative comment.
• Don’t be afraid to talk about yourself. This is a two-sided experience.
• Keep YES/NO questions to a minimum.
• Where possible, evoke pleasant memories and see if you both can tease out details.
• Explore together some matters that have been previously unknown.
• Use pieces of previous conversations as starters for the next time you are together.
• Consider artifacts, photos, current events, weather or spiritual matters as worthy matters to explore.
• Be glad when the conversation wanders among topics; this may be a sign of mental alertness, curiosity and imagination.
• If silence occurs among the moments of conversation, don’t worry—the chat will eventually resume.
These exchanges between you and a saintly older person can be the highlight of a day, the source of great joy, an invitation for courage, a time of satisfying fullness and a good reason to talk again.
And the time after that, and the time after that….