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3 ways to get the conversation started with older people

Chatting to older people can sometimes feel like a challenge. Will they understand you? Can they hear you? What should you talk about? But social interaction has been shown to have far reaching benefits for older people, from improving brain health to reducing depression, so it’s crucial that we talk for as long and as often as we can with our older loved ones.

To help kick things off, here are three fool proof ways to get a great conversation started right now.

1. Bring along a conversation starter

Props can be wonderful conversation starters, and a great way to get things going if you find it hard to kick off a dialog. Whether it’s a family member or someone you’re caring for, you’d be surprised how much chat can evolve from a small, stimulating object. Some ideas include:

  • Photo albums, new or old, or some recent snaps of your family
  • Today’s paper, or even old newspapers which might jog memories
  • Videos, to display on an in-room TV or on a large screen tablet
  • Food, such as a tasty cake you’ve baked or something you know they enjoy
  • Springboard your conversation with things like ‘look what I found’ or ‘I’ve brought something you might like…’.

2. Ask questions

Older people have a whole lifetime of memories locked away inside their heads. If you’re chatting to a family member, why not ask about your family tree, or what your great grandparents were like. If you aren’t related, you could ask about what things were like when they were younger, and how their childhood differed from your own.

It can be hard to remember that these aging people were once young and foolish too. Undoubtedly, they’ll have all sorts of interesting stories about dating disasters, times they were naughty in school, or what they did for work. If you’re facing difficult decisions yourself, asking for their advice will not only make them feel flattered and valued, it could also mean you gain a share of their hard-earned wisdom too.

3. Become a Westgate ‘Chatterbox’

We have recently launched an exciting initiative that we’ve named ‘Chatterbox’, with the aim of stimulating more interesting conversations with our residents. Our staff team members grab a card from the box, each one of which contains a question, and use that as a prompt to engage in meaningful dialogues with people at our homes.

Our Chatterbox cards ask things like ‘what was your first job’, ‘do you have any hidden talents’ or ‘what would your perfect day look like’. So far, this unique initiative has led to some priceless interaction taking place, as well as a good deal of laughter and amicable debate. If you’d like to play Chatterbox with your loved one, just ask a member of staff for a card.

Crucially, having a great conversation with an older person means you have to listen at least as much as you talk. Be an active listener, and encourage them to go deeper into a topic they are enjoying by asking questions. Make it easier to talk by reducing background noise, talking clearly and not becoming condescending in the way you are communicating.


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