15 Questions to Ask Seniors in Your Life

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posted by Suzie Schmitt on September 23, 2021

Young woman with her elderly parents asking questions to ask seniors.

It might be hard to start a conversation with your elderly loved ones sometimes. Especially if you’re on the younger side, it can feel like you don’t have much in common and don’t have much to talk about. And if you’re tasked with elder care, you might be spending all your time with the senior in your life, and all your standby conversation topics are starting to feel stale. Coming up with new questions to ask seniors can feel pretty daunting when you grew up in completely different worlds.

 

We’re here to help. We’ve compiled 15 different questions to ask seniors to get those conversations started. Some of the following questions are more lighthearted, intended to get you and your family happily reminiscing. Some are more heavy, intending to spark some more serious conversation. All could be great ways to start important and meaningful conversations with an elderly loved one. 

 

Hopefully, if you end up using even a few of these questions to ask seniors, you’ll infuse new life into your conversations and form new bonds. Let’s get into it.

1. What do you know about your family history?

If the senior you’re asking is part of your family, this question could have special resonance. You’ll want to hear all about the origin of your last name, where your ancestors hail from, all that kind of thing. An extra question to ask seniors would be about their family crest, if they have one. Do they know what all the different pieces stand for? If not, you can do some digging of your own and maybe come up with an answer. 

2. What was your first job? Favorite job?

This is one of those questions to ask seniors that will really reveal how much the world has changed in the past few decades. You can ask all about how your elderly loved one got introduced to the world of work and how old they were when they started. It can also be fun to hear about which of the jobs they had throughout their life was their favorite. Did they have a boss they particularly liked, or work they particularly enjoyed doing? Especially if your loved one has had a lot of different jobs in their life, they might enjoy the process of sifting through them all to pick a favorite and reminiscing on those fond memories with you.

 

If the senior in your life is up for talking about it, you can also find out about their least favorite job. There could be some really good stories in there. Bonus points if they tell you how much they made. 

3. What do you remember about the place where you grew up?

Even if you live in the same place where your loved one grew up, there have probably been a whole bunch of changes since the days of their youth. Ask about what the community looked like back then — what kind of buildings were around, and which ones have gone up since? 

 

If you live far away from where your loved one was born and raised, this is an even better question. See if they have any pictures, and you can always supplement with your own research, if possible. Some of these questions to ask seniors might spark your interest in genealogy and inspire you to go off and look into finding what supplemental information you can. This could be one of them. 

 

Reminiscing is often an important part of elder care. Lots of seniors enjoy going over happy memories, and it can actually help them retain their sense of self as they age. Reminiscing has been shown to have positive benefits on depression and loneliness, so definitely consider making it a part of your elder care routine.

4. What did you do for fun when you were my age?

This one works better if you’re on the younger side of things, but if you’re an adult looking for questions to ask seniors, you can just leave the age part out of it. Find out what your loved one got up to in their free time when they were in school. What kind of games did they play? Which spots were favorites among them and their friends? You might find out that your straight-laced grandma had a bit of a wild streak back in the day, or you might discover your rough-and-tumble great uncle had a softer side. Your elder care duties can get more interesting when you know more about the people you’re looking after. 

5. What’s your happiest memory?

One of the questions to ask seniors that could go one of two ways, this one might be best worked up to later in your conversation. You might hear about babies coming home from the hospital or wedding days, or maybe your loved one has a less monumental happiest memory. Maybe it’s turned bittersweet over time. However they decide to answer the question, it should be a good way to reminisce on days gone by. 

6. Do you remember any fads from your youth? Popular hairstyles? Clothing?

Seeing how fashions have changed over the years can be heaps of fun. This is one of the more lighthearted questions to ask seniors on our list, and you should definitely take advantage of that. See if you can dig up any pictures of your loved one in the hairstyles or clothing they bring up. All things come around, so who knows, maybe one of the trends you enjoy today is one that your loved one took part in back in the day!

 

They might also tell you about fads they didn’t like, which could be even more entertaining. 

7. Who was your favorite teacher? Your best subject?

You might bond with your loved one over a distaste for school, but we’ve tried to keep most of these questions to ask seniors positive. So if you’d rather ask them about the pranks they pulled in school or how they avoided doing their work, that could also be a good option. Just gauge your audience. 

 

Hearing about teachers who shaped their lives can be illuminating, especially if they went on to have a career in something education-related. Ask about which subjects they enjoyed and which ones they maybe didn’t as much.

 

In addition to being a great elder care activity, this question can also teach you about how much the education system has changed since your loved one was a kid. If they grew up in a rural area, they might even have attended a one-room schoolhouse. There’s sure to be plenty of interesting stories there.

8. What was your first car? 

If your loved one isn’t driving anymore, this could be a sore spot, so proceed with caution. Elder care can sometimes be a tricky business, but you should have a pretty good idea of which of these questions to ask seniors are good for you and your loved one and which ones aren’t a great fit. Anyway, for those seniors who would love to talk about cars of yesteryear, looking back over the cars they’ve had and driven and the memories made on those road trips can be a great little trip down memory lane. 

 

If your loved one likes talking about cars, don’t stop at their first. Ask about their favorite car they ever owned, or you can ask if they have a dream car they’ve always wished they could have. You can share your own ideal mode of transportation, and the two of you might even bond over your taste in vehicles. 

9. If you could go back to any year, which would it be?

All your questions for seniors don’t have to be so cut-and-dry; a hypothetical like this can really spice things up. Maybe they’ll surprise you and say they’d rather go to the future, or maybe they’ll take this premise at face value and tell you all about the things they’d like to live over. 

10. What was the worst thing you ever got in trouble for?

This is one of our best questions to ask seniors that can expose a new side of their personalities. You might be surprised at what your grandma got up to back in the day. If your loved one is reluctant to share, that’s fine, you can just move on to another one of our questions to ask seniors. Elder care shouldn’t be upsetting, so do your best to direct the conversation elsewhere if they seem unsettled. 

 

But if they’re up to talk about the shenanigans they pulled in their youth, mine that for all the stories you can get.

11. What life advice do you have for me?

Let’s move into some more serious questions to ask seniors now. Some seniors are always giving advice, letting you know exactly how they think you should do every little thing. How best to fold your laundry isn’t the kind of thing we’re talking about here, though. Ask about the big picture things. 

 

Do they have wisdom to share about maintaining relationships? Finding happiness? Gaining a work-life balance? These are the kinds of things that only experience and time will teach you, so turning to our elders for advice makes perfect sense. Make sure you’re paying close attention. Being in an elder care role might put you in the position of power most of the time, so making sure your loved one knows you value their input with questions like this one can make for a good balance.

12. What are the most rewarding things about getting older?

Maybe this one is more for your benefit than for theirs. We live in a culture that resists and demonizes aging, but it’s not all bad. Have your loved one fill you in on their favorite parts of getting on in years. Of course, some grumps won’t have anything positive to say at first, but if you’re skilled in elder care, you’ll know how to prompt them in a way that won’t be annoying. See if you can coax a positive answer out of them. Maybe they’ve enjoyed slowing down a little and spending their time their way. Lots of our questions to ask seniors focus on the past, but talking about the present (and future) can be good, too. This one can help you do that.

13. What are you the most proud of?

After a lifetime of achievement, it can be a good elder care exercise to go back over their biggest accomplishments. These could be work-related feats, or they could be more personal. Being patient is an important part of elder care communication, and you might have to wait a while for your loved one to sift through everything they’ve done in their life. It’ll be worth hearing what they value above all else, though.

14. What kinds of things and activities make you the happiest now?

You can use their answer to this one to inform your other elder care activities. Keep it within reason, of course, but try to implement more of the things they list that they enjoy into their daily schedule, and let anybody you share elder care duties with know about it. If they say chocolate ice cream, don’t buy them vanilla. That kind of thing.

 

As their needs and abilities change, your senior loved ones might take up new hobbies or fall back on old ones. If they like knitting, make sure they have enough yarn. If their pet is one of the things that brings them the most joy, make sure they’re well cared for, too. Much of elder care is about making sure your loved one is as comfortable as possible as well as providing good companionship, and this question can provide you useful information in pursuit of that goal.

15. How would you like to be remembered?

We’ll conclude our list of questions to ask seniors with a bit of a heavy one. As we age, we tend to start confronting the concept of our legacy. Your loved one’s answer to this question will be illuminating as to what they value. Depending on their answer, you can help them solidify that legacy — help them collect all their famous recipes and compile them into a cookbook, for example, or prompt them to write a memoir. It could be one of your most rewarding elder care activities, and one you’ll always have a tangible reminder of.

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