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Healthy Aging: Let’s talk about talking

I fancy myself a good conversationalist. I hold my own in most social settings and I occasionally offer gems of conversant wisdom that surprise even me.

As older adults, we stay healthier if we have a strong array of social connections. These connections are made through conversation. Talking paves the way for improved relationships — and is its own platform for healthy aging. So, let’s talk about talking.

With a little help from people with more expertise in this area, I have ideas. Did you know there are three tiers of conversation? Tier 1 is the “safe” tier (recent shared experiences, entertainment/celebrities and the weather).

At this time of year, it could sound something like, “Did you see that fourth-quarter touchdown last Sunday? That fella was smokin.” If the player doing the scoring was not making it happen for the team you favor, you might choose to talk about something else. But sports are almost always a good topic. Movies too.

Lately I’ve been talking about the new movie “Don’t Look Up,” which I saw — and sort of wish I had not. The movie I haven’t seen but want to is “Licorice Pizza.” It’s only in theaters so far, but that only raises the anticipation.

In terms of basic Tier 1 conversation, the weather, especially rainfall (too much or not enough), is probably the safest topic to raise.

“Potentially controversial” conversation (Tier 2) includes subjects like politics, religion and your love life. All three are risky in these uncertain times. I would stay away from politics entirely unless you’re completely consumed by an elected official’s recent rant. If you mention that person by name and see any eye rolling, be careful. Eye rolling can pave the way to things you definitely don’t want to talk about. If that starts to happen, perhaps you should redirect the conversation to your love life. If you decide to do that, do not offer a lot of details.

Tier 3 includes a few closer-to-the-heart topics. Things like your family dynamics and personal health. A lot of older adults welcome these discussions if they are done well. And they can be incredibly informative.

A good way to start is to say, “Catch me up on your health.” In a recent conversation that began that way, I walked away with the realization there is a blood supply crisis, and I now know how to donate blood and platelets (1-800-RED CROSS). Same person, different conversation, I learned about the anti-inflammatory qualities of turmeric and a recipe for turmeric-infused quiche.

And that leads me to the next important consideration. “Be more interested than interesting.”

I know, it sounds a little off the mark, because I’m talking about talking. But the key to connecting socially, and benefiting from those connections, is to ask good questions, draw out people and listen to what they say.

Ask, “What do you think?” Then, really listen. Periodically reflect back to them what you hear. If you’re thinking about what you plan to say next rather than what you’re hearing at that moment, good connections are less likely.

Maybe open-ended “what” and “how” questions are another way to approach this. What do you think?

Sharon Johnson is a retired health educator. Reach her at sharjohn99@gmail.com.