Ideas to Engage Older Relatives at the Dinner Table
With so many decades of life behind them, some might expect older people to be an endless source of stories and information. But as people age and their world grows smaller, finding something to talk to them about can be a challenge, as can Thanksgiving conversation.
So unless you want to spend Thanksgiving dinner talking to Grandma and Grandpa about the weather or the food in their assisted living center’s dining room, it might be best to come prepared with a few Thanksgiving conversation starters. Of course, these can work for any conversation, any day of the year.
Reach for a memory
She might not be able to tell you what she had for breakfast, but there’s a chance that your relative with mild dementia can recall details from decades ago.
Ask her about her first job, where she went to school and what her life was like as a child. What were her favorite things to do and what games did she play?
Keep it light
The holiday isn’t the time to discuss politics or current events. Keep the Thanksgiving conversation casual but interesting by posing a fun but introspective question, such as:
What were your favorite holiday traditions as a child?
If you could live in any decade of your life again, which would it be?
If you could have pursued any other profession, what would it have been?
Before the family gathers around the table, take some time to consider what’s going on in your life. Be prepared for the inevitable questions about what you’ve been up to and how you are doing with answers that get the conversation started.
Instead of “fine” or “good,” answer the question of how you are doing with something like, “Good. I’m really enjoying this class I’m taking,” or “I’m fine, and I’m really looking forward to a trip I have planned for next month.”
As people slow down and their worlds grow smaller, they often enjoy hearing about what’s going on in their younger loved ones’ active lives.
Despite your best efforts, it’s probably inevitable that Grandma and Grandpa will share those same old stories you have heard a thousand times before. Take a deep breath (inconspicuously, of course) and allow them the joy of sharing a treasured memory with you. Again.
Let them listen
Remember, not everyone enjoys being the center of the conversation. If your older relatives want to sit back and listen to the grandchildren talk about video games and friends at school, allow them that pleasure.