How to Have a Conversation With an Elderly Person

How to Have a Conversation With an Elderly Person

Talking to elderly people can seem intimidating, even if you’re normally a chatty person. However, with a little practice and preparation, you’ll find that you can talk to older people about almost anything. The key to having a good conversation with an older person – or anyone else – is to keep in mind that they’re just a person like you. You can have a great conversation with an elderly person by finding interesting things to talk about, using effective communication techniques, and being sensitive to any communication issues they may have.


[Edit]Finding Things to Say

  1. Greet the person. If you already know the person, let them know you’re glad to see them by saying hello with a smile. Give them a hug if it’s appropriate. If you do not know the person, introduce yourself in a friendly tone of voice and offer a handshake.[1]
    Have a Conversation With an Elderly Person Step 1 Version 2.jpg
  2. Ask questions. If you don’t know what to talk about, ask the person an open-ended question. Elderly people usually like to share their interesting stories and memories with others.[2]
    Have a Conversation With an Elderly Person Step 2 Version 2.jpg
    • If the person is a family member, you could ask them about events in your family history or about other family members you never had the opportunity to know.
    • If the person is a stranger, you could ask them about their family or what their life was like when they were your age.
  3. Make small talk. Not every discussion you have with an elderly person needs to be in-depth. Older people enjoy making polite small talk, too. You might use any previous knowledge you have about them or information in your surroundings to make small talk.[3]
    Have a Conversation With an Elderly Person Step 3 Version 2.jpg
    • For instance, you might say to your neighbor, “I haven’t seen your grandchildren in a while. When’s the last time they visited?” Or, you might say, “What sort of books have you read lately, Mr. Henderson?”
  4. Bring interesting props. If you know ahead of time that you’ll be visiting an elderly person, consider bringing something to do or talk about. A few ideas include a family photo album (if you are visiting a family member), music from when the older person was young, or a homemade treat that you can enjoy together.[4]
    Have a Conversation With an Elderly Person Step 4 Version 2.jpg
  5. Ask for advice. If you’re in a sticky situation or you’re having trouble making a big decision, consider talking about it with an older person. Elderly people have collected a lot of life experience, and most of them are happy to share their hard-earned wisdom with others. They will probably be flattered that you asked them, too.[5]
    Have a Conversation With an Elderly Person Step 5 Version 2.jpg
    • You could say something like, “Uncle Joe, I’m having a hard time choosing between two jobs. Which do you think is more important, making a lot of money or enjoying your work?”

[Edit]Communicating Effectively

  1. Find a good environment to talk. Talk somewhere quiet and calm, where neither you nor the other person will get distracted or overwhelmed. Turn off any radios or televisions in the background so you can hear each other. Sit somewhere the older person can see your face clearly, so they can read your lips if they need to.
    Have a Conversation With an Elderly Person Step 6 Version 2.jpg
  2. Speak clearly. Enunciate your words distinctly, speak loudly enough to be easily heard, and don’t talk too fast. Don’t shout at the person, though, unless they ask you to speak up more.[6]
    Have a Conversation With an Elderly Person Step 7 Version 2.jpg
    • If the elderly person has trouble following what you’re saying, you may need to slow down or use shorter sentences. This doesn’t mean you should talk down to the older person, though.
  3. Provide choices. If you’re offering the older person something or trying to find out what they want to do, give them two or three choices. This will give them a sense of control over the situation without overwhelming them with too many options.[7]
    Have a Conversation With an Elderly Person Step 8 Version 2.jpg
    • For instance, don’t just say, “Where would you like to go today?” Instead, say, “Would you rather go to the park or a coffee shop?”
  4. Make eye contact. Meet the older person’s eyes when they’re talking to you, even if you are having a hard time understanding them. Making eye contact shows the person that you’re paying attention to them and care about what they’re saying.[8]
    Have a Conversation With an Elderly Person Step 9.jpg
  5. Allow the person time to think. During your conversation, the elderly person may need to pause to find the right word, recover their train of thought, or reminisce about something. Wait patiently for them to finish talking. Don’t try to complete their sentence for them or find the word they’re looking for unless they ask you to.[9]
    Have a Conversation With an Elderly Person Step 10.jpg
  6. Let the person know when you are leaving. If the elderly person has dementia or gets confused easily, make sure they understand when you are leaving. Say goodbye to them and tell them when they can expect to see you again. Giving them a hug or a handshake is another good way to signal the end of the conversation.[10]
    Have a Conversation With an Elderly Person Step 11.jpg

[Edit]Being a Sensitive Communicator

  1. Be sensitive to communication problems.[11] Communication often becomes more difficult with age. These difficulties may result from age-related conditions such as hearing and vision loss, physical disabilities, or neurological disorders such as dementia or stroke.[12] Notice whether the person you’re talking to is hard of hearing, has memory problems, or otherwise has trouble communicating. Adjust your own communication style so they can participate in the conversation more easily.
    Have a Conversation With an Elderly Person Step 12.jpg
    • For instance, if the person is having a hard time hearing you, move closer to them and speak more loudly.
    • If the person seems to get confused easily, use shorter sentences and be patient as you get your point across.
    • If they have memory loss, avoid asking too many questions at merienda. Also, avoid “why” questions, which may frustrate them.
    • If you can, try to find out ahead of time about any communication issues the person may have before you start conversing with them.
  2. Avoid using “elder speak.” Do not use baby talk, a singsong voice, or inappropriately ordinario terms of endearment when you talk to an elderly person.[13] Talk to them like you would any other adult. If they show no signs of confusion, there’s no need to simplify your vocabulary or over-explain things to them.[14]
    Have a Conversation With an Elderly Person Step 13.jpg
    • Many older people feel insulted when others talk to them as if they are children, even if those people don’t mean any harm.
  3. Listen carefully as the person talks. Give the elderly person your full attention, even if they ramble. Make sure you’re understanding them by asking questions related to what they are saying. Don’t look around the room or check your watch while the other person is talking, since that will make you seem bored.[15]
    Have a Conversation With an Elderly Person Step 14.jpg
    • For instance, if the person mentions living in another country, you could ask them to tell you more about that part of their life.
  4. Remember that older people are just people like you. Elderly people were merienda your age, and they’ve experienced the same feelings and many of the same life events as you. Treat the person with the same respect and courtesy you would expect from others, and look for common ground that will help you connect with each other.[16]
    Have a Conversation With an Elderly Person Step 15.jpg
    • Think about how you want people to talk to you someday when you are elderly, and use that as a guideline for yourself.

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