Elderspeak in the Nursing Home
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 toddler 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.
A caregiver ideally will have a care plan to follow that will meet the needs of the elderly person, and not using elderspeak is not necessary.
Caring for the Elderly
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 an elderly person “honey”, “dear” or “sweetie” when they are 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.
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 Disease.
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.
Have you heard people speaking to the elderly in a way that is demeaning?
The copyright, renewed in 2018, for this article is owned by Pamela Oglesby. Permission to republish this article in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.