Mature Exchanges
Reader's Digest Canada|April 2020
How to communicate effectively with your elders

OLDER PEOPLE TEND to like me. I’m a good listener and a big talker, and I know my way around a cup of tea and a stiff drink. I tend to like older people, too—which is handy now that the average age of my family members, spouse and siblings aside, is hovering around 80.

Because I’m based in a different province than my elderly relatives, my primary role in their lives is conversing, not caretaking. The same dynamic applies to my relationship with my 89-year-old friend Raoul Gagnon, whom I met through Les Petits Frères, a Montreal organization committed to reducing social isolation among seniors. Every week for the last five years, we’ve gabbed in the kitchen of his walk-up apartment. While I can happily chatter away with Monsieur Gagnon and my family about everything from travel to politics to childhood memories, I sometimes wonder how well I’m holding up my end of the bargain. Are they getting what they need out of our chats? Is there anything I should be doing differently?

One thing is certain: the time has come for us all to build meaningful connections with our elders. According to StatCan data, there are now more Canadians over the age of 65 than there are under the age of 15—and their numbers are rising quickly. A decade from now, nearly one in four Canadians will be a senior. So here are some practical strategies to ensure everyone can make the most of intergenerational confabs—now and in the future.

Avoid stereotypes

We often attribute a person’s behaviour to the most obvious thing about them—and age is an especially visible trait. According to Verena Menec, a professor at the University of Manitoba in the department of community health sciences, that’s a mistake. “Just because someone is older, don’t assume that they don’t know what’s going on in the world or that they have dementia or hearing issues,” she says.

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