Contributed by Paula Spencer Scott, Caring.com senior editor
Worried about how to keep a conversation moving along when visiting an older adult in a nursing home or assisted living? Sometimes it’s helpful to focus not on what you should say but on *how to encourage stories* instead.
Storytelling can be a wonderful, no-pressure way to spend warm time together. People with memory or hearing trouble will feel less social pressure. Best of all, you just might learn some never-heard-before tales and tidbits about your relative or your family history.
Some ideas for seamless storytelling:
Consider bringing mementos as starting points. Ask for help with photo albums, a family tree, or an old marriage certificate, for example. Say, “I’ve been wondering about . . . ” “I need your help figuring out . . . ”
Make it easy, not like a test. Avoid peppering your loved one with detail-focused questions (“Who’s that? Where was this? Do you remember?”), especially if memory loss is a problem. Better: “Is this Aunt Jane? She’s so tall!” “Did you like growing up on a farm?”
If your loved one blanks or resists broad questions, go more narrow. Instead of asking, “What was it like in the war?” you might ask, “Were you nervous traveling overseas for the first time when you enlisted?” “Did you ever think we’d join the war?”
Ask about superlatives: “Who was your first boyfriend?” “What’s the longest you ever wore your hair?” “What’s the fastest car you ever drove?” “Did you have a favorite birthday?”
Remember these three little words: “Tell me about . . . “Often the best way to get someone talking isn’t by direct questioning. “Tell me about . . . ” invites stories in a nonthreatening, non-quiz-like way.
For people with dementia, try encouraging free-associated stories. Reminiscence therapy encourages creativity and stories with the pressure of “getting it right” removed. Look at photos in magazines, on postcards, or in picture books together. Ask open-ended questions that encourage a story, such as, “Why do think she’s wearing a dress like that?” “Did you ever have a dog like this one?”
For more ideas about how to spend time with an elderly loved one, see 11 Tips for a Terrific Visit
Paula Spencer Scott is senior editor at Caring.com, the leading online destination for caregivers seeking information and support as they care for aging parents, spouses, and other loved ones. Paula is a 2011 Met Life Foundation Journalists in Aging fellow and writes extensively about health and caregiving.
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