Conversation starters

Conversation Starters With Elders Which Encourage Connection

The elder developmental stage of life has as many specificities as any other stage, however if you’re not past 80, it can be difficult to understand. Just as my 22 and 24 yr. old daughters can’t fully understand the decisions her 52 yr. old mother makes, we don’t always see the wisdom in the choices of our older counterparts.

It’s first important to understand that the aging brain processes things differently than it did when it was younger. In fact, there are things the older brain can process that a younger brain simply cannot. Elders have the edge on grasping the big picture and seeing life from a broader perspective. And since I’m not 80, I have no idea what that looks like, however my research has helped me compile these ideas for conversation.

Starting with direct questions can sometimes be inhibiting. Unless you’re sure the topic is something that the person is interested in recalling or exploring, start with statements that can emerge into questions as you go. Indirect questions can also help get a flow of dialogue moving. The point isn’t to get the “right” answers or have the conversation accomplish something specific, other than allowing two beings to connect in a way that honors the experience and wisdom of the elder. The following suggestions are not meant to be spoken verbatim, although some could! They’re designed to get you thinking past the paradigms that you might be attached to at this stage of your life. This is a chance to develop your sensibilities and spirit.

  1. Avoid “How are you today”, which could end in a litany of ailments or complaints. Replace with an exclamation of “You’re looking especially chipper today!’ or some positive (and authentic!) observation.
  1. “Hello” (pause for a response)
  1. Think of a problem you would like some perspective around in which you know they are knowledgeable. Eg.”I can’t keep the deer out of my lettuce plants. Did you ever deal with that?”
  1. What’s a topic they enjoy? “What did you enjoy about flying a plane in WWII?”
  1. “When you were little, what did your family do together that you enjoyed?”
  1. Weave in an example: “My neighbor told me she remembered when phones had party lines. That sounds so funny to me!”
  1. “Do you have a favorite animal?”
  1. “Would you like me to read to you?” (all kinds of reading material provides room for deeper discussion!)
  1. Allow the same discussion, over and over, if that is the direction your elder chooses. Find ways to not be annoyed by repetition.
  1. “What a great day. I always enjoy a warm, rainy day. It reminds me of splashing in puddles when I was little.”
  1. Tell a joke. Eg. What do you call a 100 year old ant?
    An antique.

Conversations with

Children and grandchildren
Their education history
Their employment history
What they wish they’d accomplished
Changes they’ve seen in their lifetime
What is their purpose now?
Their surviving/late husbands


World War II
Past loves
Their careers
Pretty girls and women ;-) (Don’t fret about this being sexist. This is a simple joy for men! Try it with the ladies, too!)
Their surviving/late wives
Hobbies they’ve enjoyed

Events to consider:

Music in all forms, but esp. live
Story telling
Sitting outdoors
Baby animal visits
Babies visiting
Anyone taking the time to listen and talk


Asking about health/pain
Asking too many questions that require recall
Talking about them to others in their presence, regardless of their mental state
Correcting them if it really doesn’t matter in the big picture. And trust me, it really doesn’t matter. ;-)
©2010 Natalie Tucker Miller, IAC‐CC

Founder, Ageless‐, Picture Books for Elders™

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