In our childhood, our association with the elderly may have only been through our loving interactions with grandparents or granduncles and aunts. In later years, we reluctantly face the poignant fact that our ageless, ever youthful and powerful parents too have progressed to the stage of being “elderly”.
A challenge we face in our interaction with them and other elderly individuals is ensuring (as much as possible) that we make them feel happy without making them feel “elderly”.
Behind the aged appearance, the youth and the spirit is still existent. Communicate to that part of them that struggles to flourish but is challenged due to the years.
With the physical and the psychological changes that the elderly undergo, our focus would need to be on them as when we interact with them or visit them. Their discomfort or concern about themselves or their life may not actually make them in a frame of mind to socialize and enquire about our life . Yet, this is a stage that people would be keener than ever before, to talk and have someone to listen to them.
Be yourself, be genuine and compassionate. While our language can be warm and attentive, any trace of unconscious pity is best avoided. They need companionship and cheering up – not reminders of their challenges.
Their convenience to converse and mingle with others is dependent on their daily schedule, for eg: An afternoon visit may not be a good idea if they are used to taking a small nap. Paying extra attention to the time of your visit is a kind gesture.
The merriment of a child is infectious. Taking a child along when you visit them can be joyous for the elderly and an enlightening experience for the child. Childhood years for many elders are fond years to remember, furthermore they reflect youth – a stage that is always cherished for the spirit and the enthusiasm to face life. You would also be imparting the value of spending time with elders to the child through the visit.
The warmth you project goes a long way in their communication with you. A formal tone is unfortunately not one that would help them know you better. In certain cases, however, give time to those you may feel needs time to know you, since not all feel comfortable being informal during the first meeting.
I still fondly remember my first meeting with my husband’s lovable but reserved grandfather more than 20 years ago. During my first meeting, when I clasped both his hands as we were introduced, it was a surprise for me when he firmly but pleasantly unclasped his hands from mine. He was a wonderful person who just liked to take his time to know someone before expressing his warmth. At that moment I realized with regret that I had caused him a moment of discomfort in my enthusiasm to meet him!
However, a few meetings later, my expressive nature was appreciated by him.
Respectful communication always helps in making them feel comfortable with you. Switching off your gadgets including you phone during your conversation with them is a great idea. Your body language conveys a lot more than what you may wish to, so paying attention to your posture, eye contact and facial expression is an effective way of getting to know them well.
While speaking to elders who suffer from debilitating diseases like Alzheimers or hearing difficulties, speak louder if needed but continue to keep up the interest in getting to know them. Any tension you may feel will be immediately observed and will create an anxiety and nervousness in them too.
As a source of additional fun during your visit to see them, taking snacks or delicacies for them or even providing lunch would be a great way to make your visit a memorable one for them.
The elderly unconsciously tire themselves through socializing sometimes, so a regular but short visit is ideal for them than a rare long visit.
Our affection and attention towards the elderly not only makes them and us happy, it paves the way for our children to understand the value of spreading joy. Joy, not just among the elderly but also in the lives of members of society who are impoverished, challenged or orphaned .