How to ‘Be There’ for the Elderly


A positive attitude takes many forms, but true positivity is being stable, available, and supportive to the people around you.

Think about it. How many genuinely positive people do you know who don’t care about their friends or family? Compassion and positivity are inextricably intertwined.

It’s not always easy to be compassionate – sometimes we have to work at it a bit, have to study-up. This is especially true when it comes to family. Family dynamics can pose some of the most challenging interpersonal conundrums around. So what do we do when our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents start growing elderly before our eyes? How do we keep them in our lives, even when things get tough?


Imagine the isolation.

It is important that we, as the people they have left, don’t ignore them. Yes, life is busy. But is it ever really too busy to check-in with someone who needs you? That’s just being a good friend. A phone call or even stopping by the house can mean a lot.

As part of conscious communication, caretakers and family must keep in mind that just because an elderly person might have health issues, it doesn’t make them helpless. They deserve our respect: there is no reason to talk down or baby-talk to seniors. Just because they’re hard of hearing, for one example, it doesn’t mean they can’t understand regular old English.


Have you ever been at a family gathering and noticed an old guy in the corner all alone, watching the flurry of activity from his wheelchair and not interacting with anyone?

Talk about lonely. Sometimes the elderly get lost in the hustle and bustle of big events – weddings, holidays, etc. They have to turn down hearing aids in the midst of loud chatter, which means they can’t make small talk like everyone else. Once the commotion rises to an unmanageable point, they might simply retreat. That doesn’t mean they want to be ignored.

If you notice an elderly relative who looks like he or she might want some company, pull up a chair and engage them. If it’s too loud, go into another room.


Whenever you have the opportunity, ask the elderly people in your life about their pasts. They’ve lived through wars, economic depressions, and relationships. If you’re at a loss for where to start, here are 20 good questions to get things rolling.

The world has changed so much in the last 100 years that many seniors have stories about lifestyles that simply don’t exist anymore. For instance, even though agriculture is now primarily mechanized, there was a time when most farms were family-run. One senior woman recounts a story from her girlhood about a particularly mischievous day at the family potato farm:

 When the potato sacks were filled with “potatoes”, we would toss them to Daddy and he would lug them for miles back to the house. I used to fill up the sacks with rocks. They were easier to find and lot more fun to throw in the bags. I used to get joy by watching the sweat drip from daddy’s brow trying to lift that thing over his shoulder. I can still hear the grunting.

Just imagine the stories that our parents and grandparents have hiding away in the recesses of their minds. Imagine all the things we could learn about them that we never knew.


Encourage the people around you to engage with seniors. Kids, especially.

Find ways to help them integrate their grandparents and great-grandparents into their school work – interview them, write stories about them, do art projects with them. [bctt tweet=”The best way to nurture a positive intergenerational relationship is to get it started early.” username=”JerryKennard”]

Be Informed

Perhaps one of the most difficult challenges between the elderly and mid-lifers is navigating the loss of ability as a person grows old. Eventually it might become apparent that an elderly family member shouldn’t be driving or that it’s time for him to move into an assisted living home.

Be gentle with these conversations.

Listen to the elderly person’s needs and wishes. Remember, it’s still their life. Inform yourself and other family members about all of the options for senior living before starting the conversation. If they want to stay at home, that’s their prerogative. If home is not an option, introduce the ideas of independent living, assisted living, residential living, and alternative elder care situations.


Lastly, not everyone has a senior in their family and not every senior has a family to care for them. If you feel the impulse to be there for someone who has no one, try volunteering with seniors in your community. There are a plethora of ways to get involved including:

  • Participating in a nursing home residence program
  • Bringing meals to seniors who still live at home
  • Being a hospice volunteer
  • Driving a senior to run errands or attend appointments
  • Teaching workshops at senior community centers

Part of living a positive life is sharing it with the people around us. Even if we don’t share common cultural references and ambitions, compassionate curiosity is the first step to finding common ground. Simply reaching out with a positive attitude will enrich your life and the lives of the seniors you know.

Brooke Faulkner is a writer and career optimist. She is presently enthralled in reading her Poppo’s account of WWII Japan.

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