Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Keeping conversation when it counts

Some of my happiest music therapy moments come from working with older adults in hospice and intergenerational choir. They absolutely glow when you smile and talk with them enthusiastically. But it can be hard to keep a conversation at times. As I returned each week to see my patient in hospice, it was hard to tell if she remembered who I was or what we've talked about before. I was also hesitant to approach certain topics because I didn't know how to segue from one thing into the next. I found it most helpful to know ahead of time some conversation starters. Here is a list of just a few:

1) Career. What did they do with their life, did they keep more than one job, where did they work, what did they enjoy about it?
2) Hometowns. Where were they born, did they spend much time there, did they live any other places, what was their favorite home, what was their house like, did they have good neighbors?
3) Travel. Where have they traveled, what was their most memorable trip, who did they go with, how long did they stay, what would they suggest someone see if they were going to travel to that place, do they have any stories they could share?
4) Family. Spouse, children, grandchildren, names, ages, their education, their careers, where do they live, how often do they visit, pets?
5) Hobbies. What is your favorite activity, how much time do you get to spend doing this, what would you like to learn, do you share this hobby with anyone else?
6) Current events. Have you heard about (blank), what do you think about that, what do you think we should do about it?
7) Things around the room. Decorations, jewelry, clothes, pictures, personal items.
8) Weather.
9) Religion. Be careful to respect their religion and don't offend. Don't share much of your own beliefs, especially if you disagree with theirs. Do show interest. Where do they go to worship, do they participate in choir, are they involved in any other way?
10) Friends. Where did they meet, what interests do they share, how long have they been friends, do they have kids/grandkids? You can basically ask everything above all over again in relation to their friends.
11) Future. What are they looking forward to doing today, do they have exciting plans in the near future, do they have family visiting soon?
12) Holidays. What are they doing to celebrate, do they have any good memories about that holiday past, what is their favorite holiday, what do they enjoy most about that holiday?
13) Memories. Wedding, birthdays, holidays, major events?
14) Other interests. Music, food, movies, television shows, books, games, sports etc.?

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