“Mr. John, you are so smart!” I said, meaning it. His reply?
“Baby, I didn’t get to 94 years old by bein’ stupid!”
Mr. John was confident that he was smart. Who wouldn’t be in awe of a WW2 veteran, a member of Patton’s regiment, successful businessman and father? But the twinkle in his eye told me it didn’t hurt for him to hear that someone else respected his intelligence.
As they age, many become hyper focused on aches, pains, health issues, or digestive processes. People will often compare health problems in conversation with each other in a common bond of suffering. Conversations get reduced to topics like whether he took his medicine or when his next doctor appointment is scheduled. With this kind of eclipsing focus on health problems, often other topics of conversation fall by the wayside.
When the process of aging is all a person talks about it can be hard to think of him as more than his age or health problem. Combat this by purposefully bringing up other topics of conversation. Here are three ideas for bringing a sparkle to the eye and a smile to the face of an elderly person:
1) Give a sincere compliment on an elderly person’s style, smile, or wit and watch him light up. I make it a point to notice something about my residents besides their ages and care needs. “That lipstick looks fantastic on you!” Or “Those are words of wisdom.” Notice a new hairdo, a flattering tie, or a profound contribution to a conversation. Never underestimate the value of the words: “You were right!”
2) Ask a genuine question and listen for the wisdom that comes from a mouth surrounded by laugh lines. “How many years did you work for the phone company?” “What was high school like for you?” “What do you think about all these delivery services getting popular for bringing groceries or food to people’s homes?” Even when there are aches and pains plaguing her, your loved one may relish talking about some area of her expertise. To be heard is to be loved.
3) Thank an elderly person for the difference she made for you. When a resident makes my day with a smile, hug or compliment, I always tell him or her, “You just made my day.” If I get a piece of advice or a funny story, I try to let the person know that they really helped me. Older people can still make a difference and its important to tell them so.
When we take the time to look and listen, we usually find that those we care for are treasure troves of joyful moments. This is true regardless of age or physical and mental challenge. Not only will you boost an elderly person’s day by trying these tips, but you’ll receive amazing moments of laughter, learning and fun for yourself. Take a moment today to bring out the twinkle in the eye of someone you love.
By Rebecca Jeffries