Interview Old Person Essay

4. Interview An Older Friend

Project Skill

  • Discovering new things about an older friend or family member

Life Skill

  • Communicating with others; relating to others

What To Do

This activity helps you find out more about an older friend or family member. Choose a person at least 65 years old to interview. It might be a family member, friend, or your project helper. Ask questions about your subject's experiences as a child, as a young adult, and as an older adult. Write the answers after the questions.

Helpful Hints

You can do even more with this activity. You could:

  • Create a picture journal to accompany the written interview
  • Tape the interview to create an oral history for the older person

Childhood

  1. Did you have a favorite toy? If it was a doll or a stuffed animal, what was its name? 
     
  2. What was your favorite candy? Do you associate it with a particular person or time? 
     
  3. Did you have pets as a child? What kind and what were their names? 
     
  4. Did you have a nickname? How did you get it? 
     
  5. Did you have chores around the house? 
     
  6. Do you remember a favorite bedtime story or poem? 
     
  7. What was your favorite subject in school? Was homework hard or easy for you? 
     
  8. Can you remember a historic event that happened when you were in school? Who told you about it? Your teacher? Your mother when you got home? 
     
  9. Did you ever want to run away? Why?
     
  10. Did your father have a favorite saying you can remember him repeating? How about your mother? Do you sometimes find their words coming out of your mouth?

Young Adult

  1. What was your first job?
     
  2. Did you date a lot? What did you like to do for fun?
     
  3. Do you remember your first big romance? Did you get married, or how did the relationship end?
     
  4. Is there a particular song you associate with that time of your life?
     
  5. What was your first home like? Describe your household appliances.
     
  6. Did you have children? Who was the first person you called to say "It's a girl" or "It's a boy?"
     
  7. What was the funniest experience you ever had with a child (yours or someone else's)?
     
  8. What was your scariest moment as a parent? Or the scariest moment you experienced with any child?
     
  9. What was the best trip or vacation you ever took? Why was it so special?
     
  10. What was the best thing about this part of your life? The worst thing?

Older Adult

  1. What is your favorite hobby or activity?
     
  2. Do you enjoy a slower pace now, or are you as busy as ever?
     
  3. If you have had to slow down because of age, what activities do you miss?
     
  4. Has retirement been a good or bad experience?
     
  5. Do you have grandchildren? Do you see them often?
     
  6. What is the best part about being or not being a grandparent? The worst part?
     
  7. What things do you get to do now that you couldn't do when you were younger?
     
  8. What are some of the biggest changes you've seen in your lifetime?
     
  9. Which president did you admire most during your lifetime? Was there another public figure you particularly admired?
     
  10. What age has been the best age of your life? Why?

Looking Back...

  1. What was the interview like?
     
  2. What are the most important things you learned about your older friend or family member?
     
  3. What similar experiences have you had?
     
  4. Do you think you'll be like the person you interviewed when you get older? What stories would you tell about the age you are now?

What's Next?

Read "Making Sense of Sensory Changes." The following activities will help you learn more about the physical changes that occur in our bodies because of the aging process.

You wil be able to experience some age-related physical changes with the help of an "immediate aging kit." This kit contains items such as glasses, gloves, and medicine bottles that will help you understand what it might feel like if you lost some of your physical ability.

 

I'm proposing a new holiday. Or rather, a new use for an old holiday. I believe that we should make Thanksgiving the day when we celebrate elder wisdom by asking older people to tell us their advice for living. Here's why.

Occasionally, the question runs through younger people's minds (whether they admit it or not): What are old people good for? Our society's unremitting ageism portrays older persons as sick, frail, unproductive, and even the culprits for busting the federal budget.

Earlier retirement and increased residential separation of older people has broken age-old contacts between the generations. Indeed, our society has become extraordinarily segregated by age, such that young people's contact with elders is almost exclusively within the family (and even that is limited). Combined with the persistently negative images in the media, this question - What good are old people? - lurks in the background.

But the answer is amazingly simple. For as long as humans have been humans, older people have played critically important roles as advice-givers. Indeed, anthropological research shows that survival in pre-literate societies was dependent on the knowledge of the oldest members. It's easy to forget that it is only in the past 100 years or so that people have turned to anyone other than the oldest person they knew to solve life's problems.

Now here's the important point: Old people are still a unique source of advice for living for younger people. And we need to tap this source much more vigorously than we are currently doing -- both for young people's sake and that of our elders. That's why I'm proposing that we make learning elder wisdom a part of our families' Thanksgiving holiday.

We often do ask our elders to tell their life stories. But that activity is very different from asking their advice. You don't just want their reminiscences; what's truly valuable are the lessons they learned from their experience and that they wish to pass on to younger generations.

Now for the holiday. Thanksgiving is something most Americans celebrate, regardless of religious persuasion. And it's the one time in the year when families are most likely to gather -- and include their older relatives. What if we all take a half hour (okay, it can be before or after the football game) to consult our elders about their lessons for living?

Your children are the best ones to start this conversation and they can ask questions that are highly relevant to them. Is Sammy concerned about bullying? Some elders (especially immigrants) were ferociously bullied as children. Is Pat concerned about finding the right partner? You have elders who have long experience in relationships, but who are rarely asked for their advice about them. Are your college kids worried about the job market? If so, how about advice from people who went through the Great Depression?

Remember that this is different from asking Grandpa "What did you do in World War II?" or Grandma "What was life like in the Depression?" The goal is to genuinely and interestedly ask for advice: "What lessons for living did you learn from those experiences?" Taking this approach elevates the role of elders to what they have been through most of the human experience: counselors and advisers to the less-experienced young.

Give it a try on Thanksgiving (and let me know how it went!). Here are some questions to get you started; it can help to send these in advance to your elders so they can ponder them a bit. We've used these questions in interviews with hundreds of elders in the Legacy Project, and they work very well). More information is available in the book 30 Lessons for Living.

So let's declare Thanksgiving (or a part of it) Elder Advice-Giving Day. Our elders won't be here forever, so this year is a good time to start!

Questions for the elders:

  • What are some of the most important lessons you feel you have learned over the course of your life?

  • Some people say that they have had difficult or stressful experiences but they have learned important lessons from them. Is that true for you? Can you give examples of what you learned?

  • As you look back over your life, do you see any "turning points"; that is, a key event or experience that changed over the course of your life or set you on a different track?

  • What's the secret to a happy marriage?

  • What are some of the important choices or decisions you made that you have learned from?

  • What would you say you know now about living a happy and successful life that you didn't know when you were twenty?

  • What would you say are the major values or principles that you live by?
  • Add your own!

    Earlier on Huff/Post50:

    PHOTO GALLERY

    10 Things You Don't Know About Older People

    Follow Karl A. Pillemer, Ph.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/karlpillemer

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