My father-in-law is aging, lives alone and has clear signs of memory loss. I love him dearly, but little by little I have become the only one accepting his growing care needs. He has very little contact with others. I constantly suggest that my husband and children take an active role in his life, especially with visits and activities. My husband’s response is always the same, “After I’m there for a few minutes, we struggle with things to say and the kids are bored.” Can you suggest some ways to solve this communication problem?
Yours is a great question and this situation is a difficult one for many people. Good visiting skills are rare and the dead silence that you mentioned certainly does create awkward and uncomfortable togetherness. The Alzheimer’s Association states that “Quality time together trumps time together.” (This positive approach and good visiting skills are emphasized in my book “Moments that Matter”).
Seniors often get a bad rap by their younger family members. Actually, this age group has a wealth of knowledge and can share great experiences when they are approached as someone interesting rather than boring.
Technology provides a quick and easy way to choose a topic of interest. Some examples are events, sports, inventions, innovations, fashions and customs of the past. Print out an informational page and some photos, and you will have questions to ask and stories to tell.
Choose questions that compare and contrast your lives. Visitors will probably need to take the first step, telling a story of their own to get conversations rolling. Intergenerational exchanges teach youth listening and learning skills and may spark a new appreciation for their elders. Funny questions will bring laughter to your visits. Try some of these conversation starters:
Tell me about your first car.
When did you get a television? (If they can remember a favorite show, YouTube can instantly provide a video that everyone can watch).
Did you ever get in trouble when you were a teenager?
What did you want to be when you grew up?
How did you meet your spouse? What was your wedding like?
Did you ever go skinny dipping?
What was your most embarrassing moment?
I challenge everyone that has been in this awkward and uncomfortable conversational boat to improve their visiting skills. You have a limited amount of time to make memorable family connections. No matter the age, everyone should be included and share speaking and listening. The goal is quality time together.
Please visit my new website, www.moment-making.com, to learn more about caregiving and to submit your questions, challenges and successes. Cochran Beaulieu, a resident of Sumter county, is the author of the book, “Moments that Matter, a roadmap for caregivers and their loved ones with memory loss.”