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Elderspeak in the Nursing Home

Updated on January 19, 2017
Pamela99 profile image

I have been writing about medical issues and all the new medical advances since spending 22 years in the nursing profession.

Appropriate Communication with the Elderly

Why is it that some people think they need to speak to elderly people in elderspeak? Elderspeak is a way of talking to older people that is demeaning and annoying. It is calling people names like “sweetie”, rather than by their actual name.

The actual definition is “a manner of communicating toolder people using as low rate of speaking, simplified vocabulary restrictions and exaggerated prosody on the assumption that their age makes them cognitively impaired". Most people actually think they are being nice by using these names, but in actuality many older people find these names offensive.

Caring for the Elderly

Source

The Little Boy and the Old Man

by Shel Silverstein

Said the little boy, "Sometimes I drop my spoon."
Said the old man, "I do that too."
The little boy whispered, "I wet my pants."
"I do that too," laughed the little old man.
Said the little boy, "I often cry."
The old man nodded, "So do I."
"But worst of all," said the boy, "it seems
Grown-ups don't pay attention to me."
And he felt the warmth of a wrinkled old hand.
"I know what you mean," said the little old man.


Examples of Elderspeak

Some examples of elderspeak are calling someone “honey”, “dear” or “sweetie” that is several decades older than you. Nursing homes, hospitals and sometimes even in grocery stores you will hear examples of elderspeak. This is the equivalent of talking baby talk to an elderly individual who has all their faculties and, it is not typically appreciated.

When speaking to someone that is old enough to be your grandparent you should call them “Mrs. Smith”; do not call them by their first name either unless specifically asked to do so. This shows the respect and dignity that any elderly adult deserves. Furthermore, nursing homes have residents and residents are not a “sweetie.”

Caregivers may feel they are showing that they care about the individual; however, the elderly individual usually hears condescension. Researchers in a nursing home taped interactions between dementia patients and their caregivers. They created a scale measuring resistance to care. They found greater resistance from the dementia patients when the caregivers used elderspeak. Although caregivers may feel they are being nice, they are actually giving these patients a message that they are incompetent. Addressing the dementia patients using normal adult conversation proved to promote more compliance and cooperation from the patients.

Research

Becca Levy, an associate professor at Yale University, studies the effects of insults and any negative messages to patients. She concluded that elderspeak promoted a more negative image of aging and patients actually had lower rates of survival. Her team also concluded that people who received positive perceptions actually lived an average of 7.5 years longer.

This is a greater increase than not smoking or exercising will add. The team even took into account the participant’s particular health conditions. Their results were published in The American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Elder Communication

In Summary

Health care workers are usually trained to avoid addressing patients or residents using elderspeak. A short training session explaining the implications of proper communication with the elderly is usually sufficient to promote a better working atmosphere. One woman stated she did not want to be recognized by her age but by her wisdom and accomplishments.

Elderly Communication

Have you heard people speaking to the elderly in a way that is demeaning?

See results

© 2012 Pamela Oglesby

Comments

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  • gmwilliams profile image

    Grace Marguerite Williams 4 years ago from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York

    Pamela, you have hit the nail on the hit. You have succinctly and eloquently stated the truth. It is sad how so many elderly people are treated in this society. They are considered to be "lesser" people.

    They are also not considered to be "full" people. They are spoken down to as if they have lost their intelligence and reasoning. The elderly understand things in one way or another. They respond better when they are spoken to as reasonable and intelligent adults instead of as "lesser" beings. Excellent hub, voted WAY up!

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 4 years ago from United States

    gmwilliams, You really summed things up perfectly. Thank you so much for your comments.

  • justateacher profile image

    LaDena Campbell 4 years ago from Somewhere Over The Rainbow - Near Oz...

    Very good information! I believe that most use elderspeak in an attempt to be nice and don't think about how demeaning it really can be. You have enlightened people with this hub!

  • Tom Whitworth profile image

    Tom Whitworth 4 years ago from Moundsville, WV

    Good Hub and message Pamela.

  • gmwilliams profile image

    Grace Marguerite Williams 4 years ago from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York

    I meant hit the nail on the head. I had just awakened at the time I was writing the comment.

  • lrc7815 profile image

    Linda Crist 4 years ago from Central Virginia

    Pamela, I am so glad you have written about this. Watching my own parents in these later years makes me especially protective of their right to be treated with dignity and respect. I do think most people who use elderspeak are well meaning but this is an important topic that needs more attention. Thank you!!!!!

  • midget38 profile image

    Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

    I think the older folk of our society are "talked down to" because they are seen as more needy than others, which is far from the truth. Their experiences in life far outweigh ours and they should be given proper accord. Thanks for bringing the situation to light, and I will share as well!

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 4 years ago from United States

    justsateacher, I agree with you but I wanted people to be aware of the effect. Thanks for your comments.

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 4 years ago from United States

    Tom, It is good to see you and I appreciate your comments.

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 4 years ago from United States

    gmwilliams, Well, you did. thanks again.

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 4 years ago from United States

    Linda, I agree that people think they are being kind, but it is good to understand the way older people feel. Thanks so much for your comments.

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 4 years ago from United States

    midget, You make a very excellent point. I appreciate your comments and the share.

  • justateacher profile image

    LaDena Campbell 4 years ago from Somewhere Over The Rainbow - Near Oz...

    Pamela...yes...more people need to be aware....even if people use elderspeak without intentionally wanting to demean someone they need to know that it really is hurtful....I voted this up and shared it so that this message can get out...you did a great job of explaining the problem and giving the solution!

  • ChristinS profile image

    Christin Sander 4 years ago from Midwest

    I have to say, I don't see how calling someone "honey" is always demeaning. If you talk to them like a child overall or treat them as a lesser person, yes - but a simple name like dear or honey? Maybe it's the area I live in, but people talk that way to a lot of people - not just elderly or children. I even get "sweethearted" and "deared" sometimes lol. I guess I'll have to pass this on as interesting information to some well-intentioned people I know. My husbands 95 year old grandma was in the rehab facility for a month after breaking her pelvis. A lot of the staff called her by pet names, but they treated her like an adult as well. They would say something like "Good morning Dear" when walking into the room. She thought they were nice - so did we. I always viewed it as a loving gesture. Hmmmm I guess it's all in the context. Thanks for sharing, this perspective certainly gives me something to think about I honestly hadn't considered before. :)

  • breakfastpop profile image

    breakfastpop 4 years ago

    I agree with every single word. I am happy you wrote this hub because it is important and needs to be addressed. We have very little respect for the elderly in this country and it makes me insane. I visited a nursing home with a friend because she was thinking of placing her father there. I almost died. The workers spoke to the residents like they were children. I spoke to the director about it because I was so appalled. Needless to say my friends father never went there. Up, useful and awesome.

  • drbj profile image

    drbj and sherry 4 years ago from south Florida

    Pamela, this was a much-needed reminder of the condesencion and disparagement older people may feel when they hear 'Elderspeak.' And the Silverstein quote was perfect! Voted up.

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 4 years ago from United States

    justatecher, Thank you so much for your comments and the share. My goal is to get the word out and I appreciate your help.

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 4 years ago from United States

    Christin, I don't think it is always demeaning, but it is more about the context the words are used. I think elderspeak is not just words but maybe an attitude. Thanks for your comments.

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 4 years ago from United States

    POP, I am glad you spoke to the director. Elderly adults should be addressed with respect, not as children. Thanks so much for sharing your experience..

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 4 years ago from United States

    drbj, I hope that it opens peoples eyes as I don't think their intentions are necessarily bad, but yet it can be so harmful. I appreciate your comments.

  • Peggy W profile image

    Peggy Woods 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

    This is an important topic Pamela and one which should be publicized...so thank you for your efforts in that respect. There might be a few elderly people who do not mind being called "dear" or "honey" but in general addressing them by their proper name should be stressed. I know when my mother-in-law was briefly residing in a nursing home after several severe strokes, one of the LPN's actually called her "Woodsy." Her last name was Woods. She was a professional pharmacist and would have hated that. Since she was in no condition to complain, I took on that assignment and even brought it up with the people in charge of operating that facility so that they could bring up the topic in an employee meeting. Up votes and will share!

  • mollymeadows profile image

    Mary Strain 4 years ago from The Shire

    Thank you for this, Pamela! As a country we really need to develop respect for elders -- and respect for others, generally. Though I agree with Christin, in the southern U.S. you get "sweetie" and "honey" from your waitress, the grocery clerk, etc., so southern elders may tolerate it better...due to decades of conditioning. :-)

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 4 years ago from United States

    Peggy, There are definitely times when we have to stand up for our loved ones. Treating people with respect is very important. Thanks for sharing your story and I appreciate your comments.

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 4 years ago from United States

    Molly, Southern elders may accept it more easily if we are just talking about calling someone honey or sweetheart. I am talking more about talking to an elder like they are a child, so it is more than just a sweet name. I think many people are trying to be kind if they just call the person honey, but we can't always know how it makes the other person feel. Thanks so much for your comments. I certainly agree that as a country we need to develop respect for our elders.

  • Deborah-Diane profile image

    Deborah-Diane 4 years ago from Orange County, California

    I am so glad that you are trying to foster respect for senior citizens. Thank you!

  • always exploring profile image

    Ruby Jean Fuller 4 years ago from Southern Illinois

    Pam. This is a much needed hub. I have witnessed this many times, not only talking Elderspeak, but shouting when a person is not hard of hearing. If people would only remember that this older person was once young with a family and deserves to be treated with respect. Great article..Voted up and useful.. Thank you Pam.

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 4 years ago from United States

    Deborah, Thank you so much for your comments.

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 4 years ago from United States

    Ruby, That is exactly what we need to remember. I appreciate your comments very much.

  • novascotiamiss profile image

    novascotiamiss 4 years ago from Nova Scotia, Canada

    Pamela, you're totally right, older people should always be treated with respect and not be called by the christian names or nicknames, unless told so. I also feel that senile people should not be treated like children and that they deserve respect as well. While visiting my father in law in a nursing home last April I noticed that there was christmas music playing and I found this outrageous. It showed that whoever put that CD in either wasn't paying attention or couldn't care less. We should never forget that these good old people brought us up and that they deserve dignity.

  • fpherj48 profile image

    Paula 4 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

    You know, Pam, this is so valid. I have witnessed younger people speaking to an elderly individual as if they are 1. a baby...2. deaf.3. senile and 4. unable to understand English.

    This is definitely something that everyone should address and make a conscious effort to avoid. Simply speak to all adults, regardless of age, as ADULTS................UP++

  • pstraubie48 profile image

    Patricia Scott 4 years ago from sunny Florida

    Thank you, Pamela, for addressing this topic. Sometimes our parents and grandparents cannot speak themselves by the time they are placed in a nursing home. And to think they would be demeaned is horrifying. I camped out at the nursing home, to an extent, while my Mother was in one. And to my knowledge she was treated with dignity. But it was only because I was ever present, I feel certain. ( I have shared that experience her on HubPages.) It is so important that our precious loved ones experience no abuse in the nursing home setting...verbal abuse can cut one to the cure and sometimes never heals. Again, you are so appreciated for discussing this issue.

    God's blessing to you and your family at Thanksgiving. Sending Angels your way :) ps

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 4 years ago from United States

    novascotiamisss, I absolutely agree. They deserve our respect and I think they still have much to offer us with theis wisdom. Thanks so much for your comments.

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 4 years ago from United States

    Paula, Yes, so true. I appreciate your comments.

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 4 years ago from United States

    pstraubie, My mother has been in nursing homes twice for a hew weeks of healing also. For the most part, people were wonderful, but some people just don't think of how that patient feels about being called those pet names, etc. She has all her faculties, so she is quite aware of her surroundings. Thank you so much for your comments. God's blessings to you and your family also on this Thanksgiving.

  • prasetio30 profile image

    prasetio30 4 years ago from malang-indonesia

    Hi, Pamela. How are you? I hope you always fine and healthy...amen. You have beautiful hub and I hope many people will read this hub. Unfortunately, my grandmother has passed away last month. I really love her and I willingly she left me with smile. I hope I read this hub when she was alive. Voted up!

    Best wishes, Prasetio

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 4 years ago from United States

    prasetio, I am sorry to hear about your grandmother. They are so precious. I am fine and I hope you are well also. It is good to hear from you and I appreciate your comments. Best wishes to you also.

  • teaches12345 profile image

    Dianna Mendez 4 years ago

    Pamela, this is the first I have heard this term. I agree with your thoughts on this. I have heard people use these terms in addressing elderly people, and it does sound demeaning at times. I don't use these words with anyone because I feel it is poor communication skills and a bit disrespectful. Glad I caught this informative hub. Voted up!

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 4 years ago from United States

    Diane, I very much appreciate your thoughts and comments on this hub.

  • RTalloni profile image

    RTalloni 4 years ago from the short journey

    So glad to see this post. We need more like it on all of the topics related to elder care in nursing homes and on in home care. It is a wise thing to teach elder care concepts to the general population. Thanks, Pamela.

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 4 years ago from United States

    RTalloni, I obviously feel the same way and I appreciate your comments.

  • Rolly A Chabot profile image

    Rolly A Chabot 4 years ago from Alberta Canada

    Hi Pam... what a great hub and I so agree with you. Is it because staff fail to learn their real names and terms like honey and sweetie are easier. It shows such a lack of respect.

    Hugs from Canada

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 4 years ago from United States

    Rolly, I agree, although some people don't mind, but the staff should ask the patient how they would like to be addressed. Thank you for your comments. Hugs from FL.

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 3 years ago from United States

    SamitaJassi, I am glad you agreed with the hub and thank you so much for your comments.

  • Pamela99 profile image
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    Pamela Oglesby 2 years ago from United States

    Samita, I am glad you enjoyed this hub. Thank you for your comments.

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