Ending “elderspeak” starts with respect

“Hi sweetie, how are you doing today?”

“You are SO cute!”

“Do we need to use the potty?”

We expect this language in our daycares, but unfortunately it’s all too common in senior living settings as well. Recently addressed by the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune, the phenomenon of using “elderspeak,” or “baby talk,” when speaking to seniors can be aggravating and can even lead to health issues.

Here are a few speech patterns common in elderspeak:

  • Use of nicknames, such as “sweetheart,” “darling” or “honey”
  • Slow speech or speaking extra loudly
  • Exaggerated intonation
  • Overly simplified vocabulary
  • Overuse of the pronoun “we”
  • Too much repetition

Non-verbal communication is just as important. Excessive smiling and nodding, or being overly touchy-feely with someone can also seem patronizing to seniors.

It’s important to remember many seniors live fulfilling, productive lives and haven’t lost cognitive abilities. However, well-intentioned caregivers, acquaintances and even loved ones sometimes slip into these condescending speech patterns that convey to the senior they need things “dumbed down.”

Unintended side effects of this include the decline of a person’s dignity, self-worth and cognitive abilities. Seniors might not speak up for fear of not being heard, or lose confidence in their own abilities to solve problems and take care of themselves. Consequently, elderspeak can have negative impacts on the health and quality of life of seniors.

At Trillium Woods, we are highly cognizant of elderspeak and its negative consequences on aging – an issue we urge caregivers and other senior living communities to be mindful of as well. Trillium Woods’ dedicated staff encourages living life to the fullest, ensuring residents have the independence and everyday quality of life they deserve. Our associates complete annual training on resident rights, including elderspeak, in order to maintain the community’s topmost focus on person-centered care.

When it comes to choosing a caregiver or senior living community, we encourage seniors to be mindful of interactions with staff. Those who have experienced elderspeak should feel empowered to speak up in an honest and direct dialogue, to inform caregivers of their feelings and discourage the behavior from continuing.

Seniors are valuable members of our society, teeming with life wisdom, career experience, opinions and stories, and should not be so easily overlooked. Transitioning to a stage of life when adults need additional care can be difficult to navigate, but it’s important to establish and maintain respect for one another throughout the process. Join Trillium Woods in making a difference in how we interact with our elders. After all, someday we will all be in their shoes.

To see coverage from CCX Media, please click here.

Cari Brastad is the Health & Wellness Navigator at Trillium Woods. To learn more or to set up an appointment to visit the community, call (763) 553-7600.