Lively Table Topics for Mealtime With Your Senior

Family at cookout in summertime
July 2nd, 2014

Whatever happened to riveting conversation around the kitchen table? When the household includes a senior whose daily life may bear little resemblance to the lives of other family members, conversation doesn’t always flow naturally and may unintentionally end up excluding the senior. This is not only depressing for seniors, but it also may leave them likely to eat less if they feel isolated. Here’s some advice on table topics, including conversation starters and conversational techniques, that can revive dialogue and banter. Discover simple tips for transforming mealtimes from lackluster to lively for every generation at the table.

Surefire Conversation Starters

Dinner is a great time to nudge memories from your senior, and a question about memories or traditions is one of the best table topics to get seniors to drop their inhibitions and start talking. Home Instead Senior Care launched a program called Craving Companionship, which is designed to bring the family together at mealtime through conversation. If you follow this program, your loved one might just spill the beans on all kinds of family secrets that wouldn’t otherwise come out. More importantly, conversation that includes your senior helps him become more involved in the family and encourages better nutrition.

Try creating a set of cards — 50 is a good number to aim for — each with a prompt or question to draw your senior into the conversation. Write one question on each of the index cards. Home Instead Senior Care provides the following example questions:

  • What are some of the most valuable things you learned from your parents?
  • What was a major turning point in your life and how did it affect you?

Notice that they’re open-ended questions. Pick a rainy day when everyone’s stranded at home and brainstorm the other 48 questions. Then pick a couple of cards at random to use for table topics when you need to step up the conversation. You might want to record the answers for posterity.

More Ideas for Table Conversation

Melody Wilding, a geriatric social worker who comes from a three-generation household, emphasizes on eCaring that it’s not difficult to talk with seniors. “Seniors are simply older people,” she says. Since many caregivers haven’t grown up with a grandparent in the home, they might need a little help to select inclusive table topics that elicit more than a “yes” or a “no” out of their loved one. Here are some of the tips Wilding offers:

  • Ask open-ended questions rather than questions that require a specific response. Ask questions with no right or wrong answer to remove the pressure of coming up with a “correct” answer. For example, instead of asking, “What was your favorite fun pastime when you were growing up?” ask instead, “What things did you like to do for fun when you were growing up?”
  • Replace questions that can prompt complaints with statements that uplift. For example, replace “How are you today?” with “My, aren’t you looking energetic today.” Wilder says that offering an uplifting comment can reap benefits that last for days.
  • Use visual prompts. Photographs can stir memories that words alone might not.

Think back over your lifetime with your senior. What were the themes of some of your favorite conversations? Revisit those themes as current table topics for shared meals. While these mealtime tips are really about providing companionship for your senior, you might find these conversations heartwarming and amusing as well.