June 21, 2011
Companionship through Meaningful Conversation
The shopping is done, and the meal is ready and on the table. Your work is complete, right? And now comes the fun part. You sit down to dine with an older loved one. But what is there to talk about? A senior's world may have shrunk to the size of their four walls. Even so, mealtime conversations are an important part of the dining experience. Without that, elderly depression could be a problem.
Sharing memories is one way to get the conversation going, according to Dr. Amy D'Aprix, a life transition consultant, author, corporate speaker, facilitator, coach, and an expert in aging, retirement and caregiving. "Sharing memories is a great way to deepen your relationship with an aging relative," D'Aprix said. "But sometimes we all need help thinking of new and meaningful things to talk about."
That's why D'Aprix created Caring CardsTM. This packet of playing card look-alikes features more than 50 questions on a wide range of topics that can help you engage a senior loved one in meaningful conversation and provide companionship. Featured below are two Caring Card questions and D'Aprix's comments about ways that you can use them to start up table talk with older adults.
What are some of the most valuable things you learned from your parents?
Many of us enjoy remembering our parents and the impact they had on our lives. Whether our relationship with our parents was easy or difficult, or more likely a combination of both, most of us recognize that who we are as adults was at least partially formed by what we learned from our parents. This question gives seniors the opportunity to talk about some of the most impactful things they learned from their parents. Follow-up questions could include:
- How did your parents teach you about "X"?
- Why do you think it was important to your parents that you learned "X"?
- Do you think they learned "X" from their parents?
For example, if the senior mentions the "importance of hard work" as something valuable they learned from their parents, you could ask whether their parents worked hard and in what ways. You could ask if their parents required them to work hard as a child. You could also ask if their parents had to work hard as kids and if their grandparents taught them it was important to work hard. This question could lead to many questions about how much time was spent working versus leisure time, and whether the parents thought people who didn't work hard were lazy.
What was a major turning point in your life and how did it affect you?
As Kierkegaard said, "Life can only be understood backward, but must be lived forward." By the time they have reached their senior years, many older adults have had numerous turning points. Reminiscing about these turning points allows seniors to make sense of their lives and their choices, and to gain peace of mind now. Natural follow-up questions include exploring more fully one or more of the turning points the person mentions and asking more details about the importance of that turning point in their lives and how they felt after taking the particular path they took.
Other questions include asking whether they would take that particular path again knowing what they now know and how they thought their lives might have turned out differently if they had taken a different route. When exploring this topic, it is important to be sensitive to whether a turning point was emotionally difficult or had outcomes that were not easy. Allow the senior to reveal only as much as they are comfortable revealing without pushing too hard or probing beyond his or her comfort zone.
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