Grandma sits in her chair, silent, but happy to have you there. How do you start a conversation with an elderly person who is hard to talk to?
You ask her, “How was your day?”
She’s says, “Okay.”
“What did you have for lunch?”
[pause] “I can’t remember.”
She gives teensy answers to your questions, but that doesn’t mean she’s not willing to talk. What’s going on?
Diagnosis CRS. What is CRS?
It could be dementia. It could be CRS, which means Can’t Remember Stuff.
Short-term memory being what it is in some older folks — that is, gone, lost, and sketchy — you’ll have a better chance of having a good conversation with the elderly if you go further back than breakfast, and even further than last weekend, which is already a blur in Grandma’s mind. Go back. Go way back. No, not to Genesis, that’s too far.
Sarah Reed, a trustee with Britain’s Contact the Elderly charity, has gone back. As a result, she’s gotten old folks coming out of their shells and talking again. They’re not giving the usual one-word answers, or even short phrases. They’re really talking about what life was like when they were kids. The seniors even remembered their blue bicycles.
How Did Sarah Do It?
Sarah had a brainstorm at her kitchen table. If flash cards work for kids, why couldn’t these work for seniors? She made sets of large cards with pictures of familiar scenes and objects from the 1940s. Popular with professional caregivers and families, these cards have sold thousands in Great Britain because they tickle old memories.
You don’t have to buy a set from England because your local bookstore will have volumes of memorabilia by the decade. Time-Life Books used to have great picture books. See what you can find in old magazines such as Life and The Saturday Evening Post.
And while you’re shopping, get some music you and grandma and her pals can sing along with.
For More Conversation Resources, Stare at the Walls
Are Grandma’s walls covered with family photos? Is there a scrapbook? Ask Grandma and Grandpa to share stories about the people and places in the pictures. The knickknacks around the room can start a good conversation, too. Is there any history about the family Bible, the silverware, a favorite hat? If you can’t find her wedding pictures, show her some generic wedding photos and ask about her big day and honeymoon.
Bonus Tip: Conversation Topics Are All Around You
When you’re visiting anyone at their home, start a conversation about the pictures, art, and accessories in the room. You’ll be surprised at the answers you get.