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How to Ask for Senior Advice: The Wisdom of Connecting Generations Through Senior Stories

Keeping Stories Alive and Creating Priceless Connections

Imagine what you could learn if you had 80 or 100 years to learn it. Even better, imagine what you can learn from someone who’s lived that 80 or 100 years, condensing the stories from all those years to the best parts, the highs and lows, the best advice. If you just take the time to do so, there’s so much you can learn. And listening to those senior stories do more than increase your wisdom, it can enhance the social wellness of the seniors in your life, too.

Struggling with how to ask for senior advice? Not sure how to connect across generations? Here are a couple tips to help inspire those senior stories.

Questions to Ask the Senior in Your Life

Getting to the wisdom of that 80 plus years of living is just a matter of starting the conversation. The conversation can start with a timely issue in life (sending a kid to college, budgeting, figuring out new math), or you could start with one of these questions.

1. What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten? Asking for senior advice.

We all get advice – solicited and unsolicited. Some of it is good and some of it is bad. Chances are, however, there’s advice you’ve gotten that you use pretty often, even use it as a guiding star in life. How about you open the conversation with someone you love by asking their best life advice.

When you’re talking to the octogenarian in your life, you can bet they’ve got some tried and true senior advice to share. Chances are they’ve got a story to go with it, and those senior stories can be priceless. In other words, you get advice and a relevant story. What’s stopping you?

Ask them to help you paint a picture in your head. What year were they given this advice? What spawned it? Were there social circumstances (like the civil rights movement or WWII stories) that made that advice more meaningful? How did he or she apply the advice in different times of their life? How did it make their life better? Think about how you can apply that same advice to your life and how it can help you or others around you as a way of connecting generations. You never know where the advice might lead you.

2. Who’s who? Senior stories connecting generations.

For some, family history is very important. If that’s true of your loved one, an easy way to light up their faces is to pull out the family photo album. Ask them to put names to faces and tell the stories around when and why the photos were taken. Ask about their homes, their jobs, their family members, what life was like in that time and place, connecting generations through those stories.

Young fashionistas might get a thrill of seeing how fashion changed over the decades (and older fashionistas will likely enjoy telling them all about it). Connect the veterans in your life by talking about how and where they served or telling stories from war and survival. And history buffs will love hearing more about the myriad of historical events and discoveries that happened across the 20th Century. Connecting generations through these photos and stories can make family bonds stronger as the lives of grandparents become more relevant to their children and grandchildren.

For those who have family or family of choice in memory care, sharing photos can stimulate memory in those struggling with dementia or Alzheimer’s. In cases where their story is your family story, strong connections can be made in sharing those memories. Do you have a grandmother who was a Suffragette? Share that legacy with the young women of the family, telling the stories of what they did to get the vote for women. Was there an immigrant in your family tree? Share the story of what made them come to the U.S., tell you about their home country, or talk about what they did to get a foothold in their new life. Sharing those daily stories can give younger generations a sense of self, can establish family heritage, and can bring pleasure to the storyteller as well by sparking memories of their place and contributions in life, the relationships they shared and situations that brought them joy.

And for the genealogists in your life, be sure to label the photos with the names of the people in the photos. As any family historian can tell you, knowing the names of people in a photo can be like striking gold. Having photos labeled can also allow caregivers a point of connection, so they, too, can ask for those amazing senior stories.

3. What’s your favorite food? Getting to the heirloom recipes.

Food is one of the common denominators in life, but it can also be one of the easiest things to share. Family heritage can affect your spice palate – from curry to cardamom – and family recipes tell the story of your family heritage. Heirloom recipes are often passed down from one family member to another along with a family story or tradition. And where there’s food, there’s often a story.

Asking about favorite foods or family recipes can lead to discussions on whether your loved one ever grew a garden, whether they are the keepers of family heirloom recipes or whether they traveled to exotic places and ate exotic things (or ate a variation of the same thing for 30 years). No matter your age, food is a connection point. And it’s a connection point we can all share.

Most families have a rotation of meals (sometimes from cherished family recipes) they eat on a regular basis. For some, that means meat and potatoes every meal. For others, exotic spices come into play. And for the keepers of those Southern heirloom recipes, you may be quite familiar with the many different ways to sauce and gravy food.

What drives that meal rotation? Sometimes it’s family heritage. Sometimes it’s driven by family preference. Sometimes it’s driven by what’s available to the family. But do you know the story of why you have ham for the holidays? If you don’t know the story, this can be a great way to connect one generation to another. And asking for easy family recipes can make your life easier.

From cornbread to chimichangas to curries, there are usually favored family recipes to be found – and a story to go along with it. Whether earning a merit badge or just changing up the dinner rotation, talking to your favorite centarian about meals they ate, meals they’ve cooked or meals they’ve loved in their lifetime can lead to hours of enjoyment – for your mind and your stomach.

family bonding

4. What’s your favorite family tradition? Discovering family heritage.

Just like foods can connect our families, holiday or other traditions often follow family lines. Some traditions – like the fasting of Yom Kippur, Easter dinner or the sugar feast of Eid al-Fitr – are rooted in religion. Others – like family reunions, silly birthday hats or wedding cookies – are rooted in family tradition or family heritage.

Family tradition conveys our family values, beliefs and even our ethics. They tell others what we hold dear enough to celebrate. Our traditions also give us a sense of identity, a place of belonging and a sense of culture. Shared memories of celebrations can bind us together and give us grounding.

As you’re celebrating holidays, ask family members to share stories around the family traditions you take part in as a family. Ask senior family members what they remember from childhood about why and who celebrated with them. Use these celebrations as a means to demonstrate family values and to establish the connection points only a family can bring.

For those who have built a family of choice, discuss why certain family traditions are important enough to share across chosen family members. Share stories of happy times you’ve shared or share recipes that make a holiday special. Think about the part tokens play in marking these special occasions (like an ornament to mark every year you’re together as a family).

5. The most important of the senior stories: What’s your story?

The stories that make us uniquely ourselves are among the most important stories you can ask your favorite senior. And when you think about it, the advancements of the last 100 years are astounding. Most octogenarians will remember their family’s first television set. Those who read the funny papers may be astounded to finally be wearing their own Dick Tracy watch – compliments of Apple. And the invention of the aerosol spray can in 1927 changed all our lives. Those stories of advancement and history, like WWII stories told from the first person perspective of a family member, can illuminate history in a way no textbook (or YouTube video) can offer.

There are decisions we make in our lives that change the path of our lives: accepting a job offer in a city over your hometown, deciding to marry or divorce, choosing a career over children. Knowing the rationale behind those decisions is an insight not all have. It’s likely only a close circle of people who hold the honor. Choose one of those turning points and ask the why/how/what questions that led to the decision. Lessons can be learned from hardships and the resulting choices, so that you can avoid those hardships yourself.

Even the families we choose or create says something about us, as do the decisions we make when our values are tested. These are the best of the senior stories we can gather from each other – stories that can connect, strengthen and bond us together. We just have to be intentional in the asking and sharing of these stories.

Introducing Senior Stories from Cadence Living

Cadence Living cherishes the stories of each of our residents. The stories of patience. The stories of ambition. The stories of grit. The stories of passion. All of these stories can enrich our lives when we share them. That’s why Cadence Living has partnered with local schools to tell Senior Stories. The series connects seniors with local school children who interview each other and write stories together, each sharing their lives along with their creative process. You can learn more here or ask your local Cadence Living community about how you can be part of the next Senior Story.