Conversation trigger cards for people over 65

The idea: Conversation cards help people with dementia become more connected and helps their carers and families relate to them better.


My name is Sarah Reed. My mother lived with Alzheimer's Disease and vascular dementia for ten years. For most of this time she was in care homes. We had never been close but I was her main off-site carer and was saddened at how little connection she had with those around her and how little she was ever given to do. 

Like many older people, she loved to talk about her past. My own long career as a creative producer and regular volunteering for older people's charity Contact the Elderly led me, towards the end of her journey, to combine these experiences. Her dementia was a gift -- and journey -- for me and by the end of her life, we became very close. 

I interviewed 120 people over 75 years old to discover what they like to talk about most. The result was a set of conversation trigger cards about the 1940s and 1950s, called Many Happy Returns Chatterbox. (

Subsequently I left my job and now run this small social enterprise, developing innovative, evidence-based products for people with dementia and also helping carers improve their communication skills with experiential workshops: REAL Communication workshops (Reminiscence, Empathic engagement and enquiry, Active listening and Life Story work). I work closely with AgeUK/Joseph Rowntree My Home Life and am an AgeUK Expert by Experience.

The cards focus on the simple, everyday life experiences of people brought up in the UK who can remember the 1940s and 1950s. A large picture on the front triggers people's memories of experiences like playing in the street or getting to school; getting your hair done or doing the house work; a first kiss or a first pay cheque; going shopping or having a nice day out. 

On the reverse side, a brief description about the subject, together with a few starter questions encourage the younger person to connect easily with the older person and get a meaningful and enjoyable conversation going, helping people share and compare their stories. 

Often families hear stories that they have never heard before when using the cards and the enjoyment that they provide helps people become more connected and relate to one another better. 

Any friend, relative or carer of anyone who can remember the 1940s and/or 1950s, especially if they have a dementia should think about implementing this idea.


Published on 12 October 2011
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