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.