Communication is one of the ways that set humans apart from mere animals. The way that we speak to another person, whether it is the words we choose, inflection, or tone, is vital in making sure that what we’re trying to convey is received and understood. Unfortunately, too often seniors get spoken to in a way that can hurt, demean, and patronize. This type of talk is commonly referred to as Elderspeak.
What is Elderspeak?
Similar to “baby talk”, Elderspeak by definition is when someone, generally younger, talks to a senior in a way that uses a type of specialized speech. The person who is speaking will make shorter, less complex sentences, and using added inflection. Commonly, the speaker will also use “we” in the sentence instead of “you”. The speaker will also answer questions for the senior while talking in a demeaning manner. Again, the speaker will generally talk to the senior in a way that is similar to talking to a baby.
The idea that seniors have diminished cognitive abilities is usually the culprit for the actions of Elderspeak. This of course, is not applicable, even when it is true. In a setting of independent living, assisted living, or memory care, seniors are more than capable of being able to understand speech well-enough to denote talking to them in a regular manner. Using Elderspeak toward any senior diminishes their self-view. It’s also true that using Elderspeak is ineffective. Although some research suggests that shorter sentences can help those suffering from dementia. This research does still note that using shorter sentences in a “baby-talk” style is ineffective. It states that just speaking in a regular, clear tone and using short sentences can help those with dementia. Otherwise, it just doesn’t work.
Features of Elderspeak
- Using a sing-song voice
- Speaking loudly
- Speaking slowly
- Using incorrect pronouns: us, we, our instead of you. EX: How’s our day going?
- Pet names: Honey, Sweetheart, Dear
- Repeating questions
- Using short sentences
- Question answering: EX: You want to go to bed now, don’t you?
- Removing Self: EX: Who were you before this?
Unfortunately, there are a lot more ways to use Elderspeak. Sometimes people will use multiple combinations of the above examples. This completely removes respect from the senior and can really hurt. In fact, research shows that using Elderspeak can spike depression rates in seniors. Studies have also shown that people with moderate to severe dementia can tell when someone is talking down to them. This shows that using Elderspeak can be harmful, especially to those that can’t speak up about it.
What to do instead?
Sometimes, one may not even notice that they’re using Elderspeak. Realizing you’re using Elderspeak is the first step to better communication. Treating seniors with respect and dignity is paramount when it comes to effectively communicating. If you notice that someone else is using Elderspeak to a senior, it should be politely pointed out. Most people don’t even realize that they’re doing it and correcting it before it becomes a problem is the best way to ensure that all seniors are given the respect they deserve.