Making Conversation: The Age-Old Art of Asking Interesting Questions

Engaging with seniors through meaningful conversation is an important part of their socialization and has been shown to be particularly important for their well-being. It keeps the brain stimulated and healthy and promotes longer lifespans. It has been connected to greater feelings of happiness and life satisfaction. It can aid in the prevention of general cognitive declines, such as memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease, and other kinds of dementia. Lack of socialization has been shown to have detrimental effects on seniors that can result in a sense of isolation and loneliness.

Nevertheless, communicating well with seniors can be a challenge for many healthcare professionals. It is often complicated by issues such as hearing or vision loss and memory problems. Training your team to be better communicators is beneficial for everyone, but especially your residents who will find their transition to assisted living to be a more positive experience when they are met by a caring and conversational staff. Engaging in conversation does not always come naturally to everyone, but it is a skill that can be developed.

Building Rapport

It begins with the simple act of expressing a genuine interest in each resident. Remember you are talking with someone with decades of experience, knowledge, and memories to draw on. As people age, they are often made to feel like they are no longer relevant. By listening to them and showing interest in who they are, you make them feel valued and let them know that you see them as an individual. Sharing memories, telling stories, and connecting on a personal level can make older adults feel healthier and happier.

Setting the Right Tone

  • Be patient. Don’t rush or interrupt.
  • Be respectful. Don’t talk down to them. Ask how they would like to be addressed. For example, do they prefer Mr. or Mrs., or being called by their first name?
  • Be an active listener. Respond and acknowledge when they speak. Make eye contact.
  • Speak clearly and simply. Be mindful of any hearing, vision, or memory issues.

Potential Conversation Starters

Ask About Their Childhood.

Taking a walk down memory lane is a simple way to get many people to open up and start sharing, since childhood memories are often the most memorable even years later. Conversation starters include:

  • Where were you born? What was your neighborhood/town like?
  • What was your first job?
  • What did you do for fun when you were a child?
  • What was your childhood home like?
  • What is one remarkable thing your parents taught you?
  • Where did you go to school/college?

Talk About Family and Life Events.

Ask seniors about their experiences and their accounts of major milestones and world events.

  • How did you meet your spouse? How did you get engaged?
  • Do you have any grandchildren?
  • Were you in the military? Where did you serve?
  • Where did you work? What was your career field?
  • Do you like to travel? What is the most memorable vacation or trip you ever took?
  • What is the best place you have ever lived?
  • What are your favorite holidays or traditions?
  • What were you doing at the time of the first moon landing?

Chat About the Present.

Asking about seniors’ day-to-day experiences can be a wonderful way to get a sense of their current well-being,

  • What’s your favorite hobby? (You can use this information to connect them with activities or other seniors who share the same interests.)
  • What was the last book, movie, or music that you enjoyed?
  • What is the best part of your day?
  • What did you think about the game last night?

Ask Them to Reflect on Life Lessons.

Many seniors enjoy sharing their perspectives on life and growing older.

  • What advice would you give for living a good life?
  • What do you think is most different today, compared to when you were younger?
  • What is the best thing about being a parent or grandparent?

Coach your team to take cues from family photos or mementos in seniors’ rooms. These could be good conversation starters. Watch for how seniors respond to different topics. You will be able to tell which topics they find interesting and energizing.

Your staff plays a vital role in creating a positive experience for your residents. PCALIC is here to provide useful information and risk management tools that benefit your team and the people they care for.