As an InHealth Chum, I visit seniors’ homes weekly for house assistance and companionship. They have become dear to my heart like an older family member and I look forward to learning more about them with each passing week. Sometimes I befriend new seniors from volunteering event, and even find myself striking random small talks with older people once in a while.
Looking back, though I used to be very close with my grandfather before he passed few years ago, it was my only experience in interacting with seniors. Moreover, I was brought up in an English-speaking family and could not speak my mother tongue Chinese well, differing from seniors in Singapore who mainly speak their mother tongue and dialects. Hence, I always felt it was difficult to communicate with seniors and did not know how to start.
During March 2021, I had taken part in carrying out programmes daily as a volunteer for seniors at an active ageing centre and observed that many of the seniors were friendly and easy to talk to. Even though there were times where I was still anxious to approach them, the interactions with the programme staff and seniors helped me to make the first step to be more open in conversating with them. This also allowed me to be willing to try out working in the eldercare sector in community care.
Along this journey, I have learnt useful tips in befriending seniors which are useful to share with others.
Tip 1. Learning to speak a familiar language
For many Chinese seniors, they usually speak dialects such as Hokkien, Teochew and Cantonese besides Chinese. While the younger generation may not know how to converse fluently in dialects, learning a few simple conversational words that are useful such as ‘Jiak Ba Buay?’ (‘Have you eaten?’ in Hokkien) is sure to make seniors feel excited and warm up to you a little more.
Tip 2. Maintain positivity and openness
Looking past the older ages, seniors also come with different personalities and backgrounds. Many of the things they share may not be relevant or comfortable to the modern young adult such as their way of living in the past, but it is important to be open to their sharing as it makes them feel respected as a person. Having a positive attitude in interacting is also important to help them feel safe around you when getting used to your presence.
Tip 3. Empathising with a listening ear
There will be times when seniors may be having a bad day or being reminded about a past bad experience. Sometimes, there will be signs of depression or mood swings as well which can become noticeable when seniors share about their life experiences. In this case, it is best to just sit back and listen and allow them to share their feelings (if you are comfortable to continue engaging). They will appreciate you for taking the time to listen to them while building rapport.
Tip 4. Be interested
In many seniors I interact with, they would bring up about feeling useless from being old and this saddens me to see them think of themselves like this. In fact, seniors have a life full of rich experiences that are waiting to be shared and all we need to do is to show an interest to want to know them better. Some good questions to would be “What did you work as in your past?” and “What are your hobbies?”. I was surprised to know that many of the seniors used to keep pets when I told them I have a pet bunny at home and they would share with me their experiences as a past pet owner. In a way, we learn new things from each other and it makes me excited to know more about their life.
Tip 5. Patience is key
Being patient with every new senior we meet is essential as it takes time to build trust through befriending. Some seniors might be more hostile or cautious when meeting someone new, so allow them the time to get to know you better as well. Besides this, certain personal topics may be private for them to share so as to remain respectful, change to another topic which is comfortable for both parties to continue.
Another instance I came across was an old lady struggling to learn technology such as WhatsApp and asked her family members for assistance, but they were not willing to repeat the steps to her when teaching. Hence, she decided not to ask again out of fear that it would be troublesome to others. In this case, giving time and patience in our communication with seniors will allow them to feel appreciated and help them to open up more when befriending.
I hope sharing these tips will help anyone who wishes to befriend seniors. Many seniors feel lonely in their daily life, so all it takes is interest and time to get to know them and help their day shine brighter. If you wish to join us as an InHealth Chum, we welcome anyone from all walks of life and backgrounds as long as you have the passion to care for seniors in the community. You may apply through here: Become an InHealth Chum | InHealth
Every journey is a learning process and more of my experiences and tips will be shared in future posts, so stay tuned. Meanwhile, stay safe!
Credit & Collab: Jasmine Sam (Author)