As people age & their bodies become less able to do what they'd like them to be able to do, some people have a tendency to begin the slow process of becoming more uninterested. No, it's not that the people themselves have become less interesting, it's just that they can't easily go out shopping, or golfing or [name that thing here]. Perhaps it's time for some re-evaluation of activities to do together, or perhaps you'll meet new people that are older than you to which this can apply. Either way, take some time to think about the things that they can teach you, rather than the things they cannot do because of physical limitations.
-Gardening. Many older adults lived during time periods when gardening was necessary to help make ends meet or even for family survival. Glean from the knowledge they have to be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Discuss insect or other problems that you might have with them and see if they have solutions to your problem
-Preserving. Along the same lines, find out if they have certain knowledge about preserving food to keep for the winter. Some people only garden for a season, but many people garden in order to preserve for the year. Find out if there are things you could do differently or even some old family recipes. It's truly amazing how many things you can pickle to preserve for the future. Fermented food are also coming into the spotlight for their health benefits. Find out if there were ways that they would ferment, say sauerkraut, that your family might enjoy.
-Cooking. Did they have anything that they were well known for cooking or baking? If so, why not ask details about how they made it? Many recipes are lost because we simply never thought to ask about them.
-Retro-fitting & making do. Many of the elderly have incredible skills with making do. For instance, did you know that the washers for spacing around nuts are often more expensive than pennies. I've heard from several older gentlemen that they would drill a hole through a penny if they needed a washer in a pinch. I'm not advocating the defacing of money, just using it as an example of how to think outside of the box in order to meet your current need without going to the store.
-Re-upholstery. It's truly amazing how many older folks that I've met that have this practiced skill. All of them that I've talked to said that they started out knowing nothing about it! If we learn from them on how to cover a sofa or chair, we could be one step ahead of the game. Even if we don't ever do a project like that, we can learn about their willingness to do things themselves & how they just decide things need to be done & start in to do them without knowing all of the details in advance. That, in itself, is a skill that few in following generations possess.
-Sewing. Sewing itself it a skill that requires much more that a sit down chat once in awhile to learn. If you only have a bit of time with a person, find out if there were ways that they were able to re-purpose clothing by sewing it a certain way so that it wouldn't be tossed aside, but rather used to good purpose. Someone might know about how to take a larger dress or pair of slacks and decrease the size for a younger sibling or family member.
All of the things I've listed above are practical things that we can learn, but perhaps the most important things to learn are the values that drove those older than us to persevere through seemingly difficult times in history or through difficult times in their personal lives. How did they keep going forward through it all? What gave them hope or the tenacity to keep putting one foot in front of the other? Those are surely lessons worth learning & will far outweigh any practical suggestions you get from them.
There are a number of things we can learn from various sources to get more details on most of these topics, but why not start at the source of ingenuity instead of the go-to catalog of all of the things (internet). Who knows, maybe some of the stories will be so inspiring we'll begin to think to ourselves, “If he/she can do it, so can I!”