This Christmas, we're going to not only have my grandparents, but also two siblings of my grandmother join our family for dinner. The great-uncle is often fine, he's still very active, has plenty of stories of his own to tell, and can even keep up (to an extent) with younger generations and our stories.
The great-aunt, on the other hand, is suffering from some form of dementia, is leading a very inactive and lonely life, with her only 'contacts' generally being her daughter or my grandparents. Her dementia is at a point where she doesn't realize she has already just told you a story.
The last time we met was around June, at a party of my grandparents. We were seated next to each other, so we talked. She was repeating the same story a lot (about how her daughter was on vacation for a few weeks, how much she missed this and how glad she would be when said daughter would be back). But she also had some very entertaining stories about her life when she was younger, and she seemed much happier talking about her past than her current life.
So, I tried to encourage these stories by asking questions, trying to offer some prompts like "Grandma often talks about X, do you remember?", and generally trying to let her see I was interested in listening to these stories. Yet, she sometimes didn't finish her stories. I would describe her as zoning out, becoming lost in her own thoughts. And whenever she 'snapped out of it', I would say she looked sad, and she would start again about how her current life was lonely without her daughter.
Those conversations about her past were easier for me to have than just patiently listening to the same story for the 4th time, yet they seemed to take a toll on her emotionally whenever she zoned out/snapped out of it again.
Given that I expect I'll spend a significant amount of time talking to this elderly relative over Christmas dinner, is there a way to encourage this great-aunt to tell about her past, so I don't have to listen the same story over and over, without her zoning out/returning being sad?