SOUTHBURY—A deck of 50-plus questions printed on cards to help prompt conversations with seniors has been recently launched in Southbury by Kathie Nitz, a professional life and relationship coach and a certified senior adviser.
The cards, according to Ms. Nitz, bridge the gaps between generations by creating bonding conversations and meaningful memories.
Caring Cards feature open-ended questions designed specifically to avoid simple “yes” and “no” answers. The inspiration comes from Ms. Nitz’s experience with her aging mother, who grew increasingly dependent on her to generate conversations as her dementia progressed.
Ms. Nitz said it made her sad because she knew her mother had things she could share with her.
“I felt like it was one-way conversation. It was just me making observations of what we were doing,” Ms. Nitz said,
“The first time I used the cards, my mother said, ‘I really like it, I felt so included.’ Neither of us realized she was present but was not necessarily engaged.”
The cards, originally intended for Ms. Nitz to use with her mother, have expanded beyond aging parents with dementia.
Ms. Nitz said the questions trend toward all seniors. She designed questions that were appropriate for the elderly, especially someone with dementia.
Therefore, a lot of questions are focused on someone’s younger years, such as, “What chores did you have to do you when you were growing up?” or “How did your family celebrate the holidays when you were a child?”
Ms. Nitz said the short-term memory of someone with dementia is almost non-existant and it’s difficult for them to recall what they eat during the day. That’s where conversations become challenging.
However, the long-term memory is there.
In fact, childhood memories are more easily accessible for them, and questions aimed at early life experiences will help them converse more easily.
Some questions seem bizarre at first sight, such as “What are some of your favorite smells?” Ms. Nitz explained she and her mom had a conversation about that, and they both like the smell after it rains and the smell of lavenders.
The cards also provoke thoughts from the caregivers, the children and grandchildren of the seniors, Ms. Nitz said. The intention of the cards is to trigger conversation, not to flip through them quickly to ask all the questions. It provides an opportunity to start a conversation with seniors.
Is there any question we should avoid when talking to seniors in general?
Ms. Nitz said every person is different and it’s about honoring who that person is. For example, it breaks her mother’s spirit when she asks her, “Don’t you remember?”
“That just breaks their spirits when you simply use the word ‘remember,’” Ms. Nitz said, “because they often don’t.”
Ms. Nitz said it’s important to realize whether we are talking at seniors or conversing with them. Many adult children tend to be task focused.
They often ask their parents, “When is your next doctor’s appointment?” or “Have you taken your medication?”
“A lot of time [adult children] are talking at [their aging parents] or telling them what they should do, and we don’t ask questions to uncover what’s going on,” Ms Nitz said.
Grandchildren and teens struggle with or avoid being with their grandparents because they don’t know how to communicate with them.” she said,
“To me, that’s bridging generations through conversations. It’s my mission,” said Ms. Nitz.