If you grew up with grandparents, you know how much seniors like to tell stories from their past. The older generation is the traditional keeper of family history and lore. Grandparents tell their grandchildren about their childhood and early adult years to instill them with the values they believe in. But as seniors become ill and in need of home care or a nursing home, they don’t always have anyone willing to listen to their stories.

August 21 is designated as Senior Citizens Day, a day on which to celebrate the older generation and advocate for their rights. You can mark this day with your patients by taking an extra few minutes to listen to each of them tell you something about their interesting past.

When you ask seniors questions about the past, they inevitably light up and tell you everything you want to know. In addition to family stories, seniors are in a unique position to provide personal perspectives on some of the most significant moments in recent history. Ask your patient about the Depression, World War II, Vietnam or the assassination of JFK. You are guaranteed to learn a lot and make your patient very happy in the process.

If you’re not sure how to start this conversation, consider some of these questions:

Were you in the military? Which wars did you take part in?
Where did you grow up? What was life like in that place and time?
What was the most important historical event in your lifetime?
How was your generation different from today’s generation?
What do you wish you could tell future generations about the twentieth century?
We know you’re busy and don’t have tons of time to talk to each patient but even a short conversation about the past can help a patient remember former times and take the focus away from his ailments for a brief time. Let your patients know that you see beyond their illnesses to the person beneath by letting them tell you a bit about who they are and what they have lived through.