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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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The geriatric gap: Understanding older adults

Our assumptions about the communication style of the elderly are often distorted and, in many cases, simply wrong. Reconsider some of these common complaints voiced by adult children and others of their generation.

• Why do they take so long to make up their mind? They’ve moved from the doing to the reviewing phase of their lives when it’s time to reflect on what’s been done. And from their perspective, life always works out. It’s their way of reminding us that we don’t control as much as we think we do in our determination to get things done.

• Why can’t they stick to the topic? The connection between people and events is the key, not sticking with the topic. Staying on task isn’t the goal—discovery is. The conversations that forever change the lives of the elderly, and those who follow them, more often than not occur in the wanderings.

• Why do they always tell the same story? They’re answering one important question: What has meant the most in my life? Repeating stories, the good and bad, provides the answers. Repetition bears witness to cherished values. But it’s even the stories themselves that matter as much as the values they represent. These give us clues asto how the elderly want to be remembered.

• Why do they always include so many details? Many of the people who’ve meant the most to the elderly are gone. Recalling these people and their lives together comes alive through attention to detail. We’re invited to learn about, to revisit people we never knew and to appreciate their profound influence in the lives of the older person.


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