ArrowrIcon Home icon

Skills | Special events


What to talk about when visiting an elderly person

The problem

Unfortunately, time with some elderly people can drag because it is difficult to know what they would and could enjoy talking about. This was certainly my experience with my mother towards the end of her life and with other elderly relatives on duty visits or when trying to extract information for family history purposes. Others have reported similar experiences.

talking to an elderly person

Use of photographs to generate interaction

I and others who were researching family history on my behalf, found that an excellent way to get elderly people talking was to take along a collection of photos, to show the top one and to say something like, "I thought you might like to see this".

Our experience showed that there may be one of several reactions to the photo. If you are lucky, it alone will generate a flood of reminiscences. More likely, though, the elderly person will need time to get his or her mind in gear for responding. So wait awhile. Do not rush. Even when they do start reacting, just nod encouragingly and wait for more information which will probably come. If not, go on to the next photo and repeat the process.

Why use a collection of photographs

Now for why it is important to have a collection of photos: By the time that you have reached the end, the elderly person's mind should have got into focus. So place each used photo at the back of the 'pack' and work through them again. This time, you may well find that photos that stimulated no reaction first time round, now do.

Why photos on a tablet or laptop can work better

The main problem with photos is that they tend to be too small to be examined closely by anyone with failing eyesight, and the light may not be good anyway. So there is significant value in having the photos as images on a tablet or portable computer. The images can be made full-screen, and computers and laptops have their own light.

I digitised so many photos for this purpose that they were my stimulus for my first website on my family history (now removed for privacy reasons).

But you may not have suitable digitised photos. That is where this website can help. Read on ...

How this website can help

The website is packed with recollections from ordinary people who lived in the early-mid 20th century, and it contains their photographs as well as photographs from museums. It thus relates to times when the elderly person was living his or her life to the full. So there is no need to use your own photographs.

Where to start? Well, it will be best if you know something about the elderly person's life. Did they, they parents or friends, for example, ever live in an old Victorian house or a 1930s/40s suburban house; were they air raid wardens on in the Home Guard in the Second World War; did they use air raid shelters or gas masks; or cook with old kitchen utensils; or watch their mothers do the weekly wash; or travel by steam train? For more ideas have a look at the top menu of the website; each menu item enlarges on tap/click to show a collection of pages. Or use the search box to see if something you particularly want is illustrated or discussed somewhere.

The quizzes - see the top menu - can also be a quick and effective way in.

Stimuli for mild dementia sufferers

This website can probably be used as described above to provide photographic stimuli for dementia patients. This occurred to me during a TV programme which reported that 'mini rooms' of furnishings from a few decades ago had been bought by the NHS for use with dementia sufferers. The idea was that as dementia sufferers' long term memories are better than their short-term ones, the 'rooms' would stimulate them in some way. So I thought, if a 'room', then why not pictures? This website is packed with pictures from a few decades ago. Furthermore it is available without charge anywhere where there is internet access.

Using the website with elderly people as described here is tried and tested. Its use with dementia sufferers is, as yet, only a plausible idea. So if you do try using the website with someone with mild dementia, I would be grateful for your reactions.

Good luck!

Text and images are copyright

facebook icon twitter icon