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Updated on March 18, 2013
Pay attention to the way elderly respond to your communication style.
Pay attention to the way elderly respond to your communication style.

Implications Of Elderspeak

What is elderspeak? Elderspeak is a type of language well meaning care givers, friends, even relatives use when speaking to an elderly person. If you sound like you're talking to a three year old or an adorable little puppy, you are elder-speaking. It is not only incredibly demeaning, but it can have negative consequences.

Some examples of elderspeak:

  • Speaking in a high pitched voice (think being excited by an adorable puppy)

Because of the way elderly people's inner ear deteriorates, they may experience more trouble hearing and understanding what you are saying. Speaking in a "pitchy" excited manner makes you difficult to understand and is highly annoying... to everyone.

  • Speaking way too loud (as if they can't hear you)

Not all elderly suffer from severe hearing loss, but they can become more sensitive to noises due to normal amounts of loss. Don't shout, it may distort what you say. Also, they may be wearing hearing aids and may make your loud vice even louder. If it seems they may not hear you start with a normal voice anyway, if they still can't hear try getting closer and don't mumble or use slang, e.g. "Whaz ap yo!".

  • Speaking too slow (W-o-u-l-d y-o-u l-i-k-e s-o-m-e w-a-t-e-r?

Speaking as if a person is mentally incompetent is the exact thing you are doing if you speak too slow and use short overly simplified sentences. You may think that will help them understand, but unless they speak a completely different language than you do, this is rude. Note: If their hearing is impaired speak a slightly slower and in a lower pitch.

  • Talking without waiting for a response (Everything okay?Good. Okay. See you Sunday)

There is nothing worse than being made to feel invisible. When you talk without listening for a response it makes a person feel inconsequential. Always make sure you pay attention, especially because they may need something. Have a conversation with the person you are speaking to, at least let them know you are in a hurry (if that is the case).

  • Being too "familiar" with someone

It is highly inappropriate when you call an adult you are not particularly close to "sweetie" or "dear". It is disrespectful when unwarranted. It is preferable to refer to them as Mister Jones or Misses Williams unless you are related or extremely close. Also, don't shorten their names from Susan to Suzy or William to Bob, because ,again, unless you've been given permission, you do not use an adults first name. Using a person's first name presumes you are in a position of power, if only perceived. Making a person feel this way is wrong.

  • Telling someone "We need to change our clothes" (bathe, eat, etc.)

Using "we" or "our" blurs the line between you and the person you are helping. You are trying to promote independence and dignity. Speaking in this manner implies a person cannot make decisions for themselves and is quite demeaning.

We must learn to speak to the elderly with respect and give them dignity above all things. Pay attention to the way they respond to you and ask that those around you help in alerting you of any elderspeak you may be unintentionally using.

If and when a person gives you permission to call them by their first name, then feel free to do so. But unless given permission remember that one day you too will be in that very same place and you will want to be given the respect we all deserve.

If an elder is being talked to with elderspeak by you or anyone else, please understand that this may not be the best decision. Family, friends, caretakers and medical providers alike should give the elderly the dignity of feeling like an independent, intelligent, and respected adult.

Respect has no generation and is always a sign of someone who is well mannered and cares about others.


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    • Anne1179 profile image

      Anne1179 4 years ago

      Yes, we need to treat right most of the elderly..

    • Jean Bakula profile image

      Jean Bakula 4 years ago from New Jersey

      This is so true. You are correct about how demeaning it is to the person. I see 60 year old "children" with their 80 yr. old parents in doctor's offices, and at times it really upsets me to hear them speak to the parent in that babyish tone. It's so wrong. Many people also speak to young chlidren that way. They are young, not from some planet where people talk in squeaky voices, it probably scares them. If I am speaking to an older person and I don't know their name, I call them Miss or Sir. Just because they have a health issue or some trouble moving about doesn't mean they lost their minds and should be treated in a disrespectful way. I am glad you wrote this.

    • Angie Jardine profile image

      Angie Jardine 4 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ...

      This is a very useful hub … it should be put up on all staff noticeboards in care homes.

      I’m afraid I’m terrible for using endearments but I do tend to say them only to older people I know well and then with genuine warmth. Something to think about though ...

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 4 years ago from United Kingdom

      This is excellent advice. I'm going to send this link to my daughter who is a carer for senior citizens.

    • mea est opinio profile image

      Monica Zoe 4 years ago from California

      stclairjack, it's true.. I noticed some people say Darlin' too, but it's the way it is said. Yes, in the Midwest words like Darlin' are used on everybody but what I want to avoid is saying it with a condescending tone as opposed to an upbeat friendly one. Thank you for bringing that up, don't want people to think you can't be sweet, or stifle any Southern hospitality.

    • stclairjack profile image

      stclairjack 4 years ago from middle of freekin nowhere,... the sticks

      well done and concise,.... i must say that the "dear" and "sweetie" refferences can be very regional and cultural,... if you are in the south,.. or the rural midwest,... EVERY ONE is dear, sweetie or honey,... most of the men would be offended if you DIDN'T play-flirt with them.... that said this was a usefull article,... two thumbs up.

    • mea est opinio profile image

      Monica Zoe 4 years ago from California

      Thank you Rose, It pertains to all of us really. I think basic manners classes should make a come back!

    • Rose Anne Karesh profile image

      Rose Anne Karesh 4 years ago from Virginia

      What a great, practical and to the point article. You are so right! Thank you for characterizing speaking to others correctly as a matter of respect.