How Caring Cards Can Help Bridge Awkward Conversations With Elders

Right Questions Uncover Life Stories and Reveal Surprises!

Capturing Life Stories
Caring Cards Help Bridge Awkward Conversations-Right Questions Uncover Life Stories and Reveal Surprises!. Amy D’Aprix, MSW, PhD

So many conversations during care community visits end quickly with frustration on both parts and a sad silence. Amy D’Aprix, MSW, PhD, a gerontological social worker and the Co-Founder, Essential Conversations Project, Inc. has a way to improve these fragile conversations through Caring Cards. Let's learn how to better communicate with our elder loved ones.

As activity professionals and certified therapeutic recreation specialists we see this scene every day in assisted living and long term care communities.

Families arrive with the best intentions of visiting a loved one and the dialogue goes like this:

“Hi Mom, how are you? Who am I? This is Joey, do you remember Joey,” said the son/daughter to the elderly woman while leaning over the woman’s wheelchair. The child may pull up a chair, usually never removes their coat, speaks awkwardly about the weather, or an upcoming holiday and then falls silent. The elder may not respond, or tries to respond but the child doesn’t allow enough time for the elder to understand and respond to the communication.

This is an opportunity lost for both generations. The child may never learn of the mother’s favorite memory from high school or the time at work she came up with a winning slogan or even a long labored birth. Memories that were never shared because life was too busy when mother and child were young and now lost because starting a conversation is too awkward.

“I have spent the last thirty years working with and on behalf of older adults and their families. I also spent nearly a decade as a caregiver to my own parents,” D’Aprix said. “I am passionate about helping older adults and their families communicate better and to have more harmonious and enjoyable relationships.”

Solution - Caring Cards

Her solution - Caring Cards, which have 54 fun and thought provoking questions and are a bit bigger than a deck of playing cards. Caring Cards were originally envisioned by Kathie Nitz, whose mother has Alzheimer’s disease. Nitz was looking for a way to communicate more with her mother and jotted questions down on pieces of paper.

D’Aprix met Kathie and learned about her idea. “I knew that it would benefit many aging families and professionals working with older adults. With Kathie’s permission, I took her idea and created new questions and put them into an easy to read and hold card format,” D’Aprix said.

D’Aprix idea has proven medical benefits, according to David Troxel, author, A Dignified Life: The Best Friends Approach to Alzheimer's Care.

“One of the deepest needs we have as individuals is to feel understood— and I believe this feeling gets stronger as we get older. Sharing and recording life stories is a powerful way to build understanding, and the Life Memories Journal can make this easy and enjoyable. Kudos to Dr. Amy for this wonderful resource,” said Troxel.

The Caring Cards have questions that spark meaningful conversations about interesting topics. The questions include long term memory questions such as, “What world events had the most impact on you while you were growing up?” and “When you were in school, what did you do at recess?”, as well as more philosophical questions like, “How do you know if someone loves you?”

The cards can be used when visiting someone in a hospital or nursing home, getting to know a client or patient, allowing grandchildren to connect with grandchildren, or as a way to spark fun conversations at the holidays.

“Although I originally thought of the Cards as a way to for other generations to connect with older adults, their use has spread to younger people as well, D’Aprix said. “I have heard many stories from couples that have used them at dinner parties or families with young children who enjoy the Cards.”

These are a few examples of people using Caring Cards with their loves ones. “I took the Life Memories Journal with me when I visited my father, and invited my seven year-old son to ask his grandpa a few questions.

Listening to them, I was surprised to hear things about my father’s childhood I had never heard before. The next day, I helped my son write a story about what my father told him. The result was beautiful and we’ll both cherish that forever,” said Ali of  Toronto.

Two others had this to say about how Caring Cards helped them connect with an elderly parent.

"Caring Cards eased the tension of not knowing what to say to our aging parent and created a wonderful evening of love, laughter and richness that will be held close to our hearts for many years to come. This valuable pack of thoughtful questions is a true gift to caregivers and their aging parent. The spark was reignited!” said Karin Joy Whitley. And for some families, Caring Cards help smooth out rough patches.

“My father and I have very different opinions on just about everything. Conversations often ends with someone being annoyed or having their feelings hurt. I am always searching for ways to connect with my father where we both leave with a smile on our faces. Caring Cards are a perfect way for us to do just that. My father loves sharing his memories and I love hearing them! We use a few cards each week at our Friday night dinners.

Thanks to Caring Cards, we now have long, meaningful conversations,” said Dr. Tamara Levine. The Caring Cards cost $14.95 and can be purchased at the website: There are discounts available for large orders.

In addition to Caring Cards, D’Aprix has created the Life Memories Journal with questions from the Caring Cards in a book format where people can record the answers. For further information the email is: