Conversation starters

Do you sometimes find it difficult to talk to an ageing loved one, or run out of things to say after ‘How cold has it been recently’? 

Not everyone is an expert communicator, and for some, starting and maintaining a conversation with older family members can be a challenge. Here are some handy conversation starters to help.

Be a detective

  • Look at your surroundings for photographs, paintings or posters that hold clues to family stories, childhood memories, cultural pursuits, travels and hobbies.
  • Seek out keepsakes or souvenirs that are a window to past lives lived locally or in another regional centre or country.
  • Sniff out beautiful blooms or fragrant shrubs in front gardens or backyards and exchange tips on gardening or horticulture.

Share your own stories

  • Reveal your own anecdotes or adventures. If you’ve read a good book, watched an entertaining movie, or travelled somewhere interesting, share your thoughts and opinions.
  • Do you have any interests or things in common? If not, try talking about diverse subjects like technology, cooking, sport, politics or pets.
  • Humour is a great leveller, and you’ll not only break the ice but also learn a lot about the person by trying some playfulness. You’ll soon find out what makes them laugh.
Grandpa and grandson not talking

Ask questions

  • Remember the four ‘Ws’ – who, what, where, when – as well as how, and use them as a guide to asking open-ended questions.
  • Listening is the key to good communication and meaningful exchanges. By ‘listening actively’ you’re making a conscious effort to understand the complete message, not just the words.
  • Be patient. Answers to your questions might take longer, but it will be worth the wait.
  • Things may prove more challenging if the person you’re visiting is in an aged care facility or hospital. The obvious first question might seem to be “How are you today?” but bear in mind this could bring on a string of complaints. Instead, start the conversation with a positive remark or observation about your loved one’s surroundings, clothes, flowers or greeting cards on the bedside table. 
If all else fails, why not turn to social media? We are lucky nowadays to be able to carry a photo album full of adventures and experiences in our handbags or pockets, so it’s just a matter of whipping out the smartphone and sharing your favourite images. Everyone loves an amazing photo.

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