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Table Talk: How to Get Mealtime Conversations Going

Sharing memories is one way to get the conversation going.
Sharing memories is one way to get the conversation going.

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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.

Order a complete set of Caring Cards today.

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. May 16, 2015 at 9:42 pm | Posted by Pam

    My mother suffers from Dementia. When I see her, I take my Ipad with family photos. This gives us a chance to communicate, jog the memory and if they don't remember, remind them. It doesn't have to be family photos, could be holidays, trips to other countries. Often I read to her, do her nails. Do what ever you can to keep their mind occupied. If they are tired let them sleep. This passes the time for both of us.


  2. June 30, 2013 at 1:41 am | Posted by Camilla Steffen

    I think the cards will be a concrete way to tally information we are already collecting as we talk everyday, the problem with not engaging seniors is, that they will stop talking altogether and stop relating to life in any real way. Better that everyone tries to stay engaged and positive, 92 is a nice age and gosh she still can handle living alone, what a blessing!


  3. May 30, 2013 at 10:51 pm | Posted by Judy

    My mother lives alone and I live alone. When we are together her non-stop talk drives me nuts. There is nothing new: she has the same memories over and over and the memories are all depressing and I feel like she is hitting us both over the head with it over and over again. She doesn't know how to listen or relate to me at all anymore. She is 92, I am 61. I feel sad, frustrated and depressed when I am with her. She interrupts so I can't even start a conversation. All I end up doing is letting her yak on and on with no connection, saying, uh-huh, oh really, isn't that nice, yes, I know, etc. I can't enjoy her anymore. Those cards would never help us. Got any tricks or ideas?


  4. July 18, 2011 at 12:14 pm | Posted by Ann Mitchell

    Comment corrected: This is a good idea. I will contribute as soon as I look over my childens' list in my ancient recipe book,which I have kept over the years with notation on each one. I appreciate your concern for us oldsters who have had busy, happy productive earlier days. Sincerely, Ann Mitchell


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