Avoid Talking to Seniors Like Babies

Have you ever used 'elderspeak'? Talk to older people like they are kids is demeaning. Studies show it adversely impacts their health as well.

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Avoid Talking to Seniors Like Babies
4 Min Read April 16th, 2021

You might think it is a term of endearment, but certain names or 'baby talk' is demeaning to the elderly and should be avoided, be it your family or others you deal with in everyday life. 

You may perhaps hear even professions use the terms "dear," "sweetie," and even "good boy" or "good girl." There is a term being used with this type of baby talk when communicating with older people, especially those with dementia: elderspeak. 

Elderspeak is Demeaning

This elderspeak is considered disrespectful and patronizing. It is also a growing problem as the world experiences more longevity and many more people in long-term health care situations. 

Kristine Williams, RN, Ph.D., FNP-BC, FGSA, FAAN, is the E. Jean Hill Professor at the University of Kansas School of Nursing. She has been studying the use of elderspeak by health care providers since she was in a doctoral program in gerontology at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. She says older people, often already struggling with negative feelings of self-worth as they begin to lose their independence, feel degraded by elderspeak.

"Elderspeak is based on negative stereotypes of older people being less competent, and using it can make them feel that way," Williams explains.

Elderspeak is Damaging on a Person’s Health

According to a Yale study, this elderspeak can also have a detrimental effect on an older person's health. The researchers say that elderspeak can send a message that the person is incompetent. These negative messages start a negative downward spiral.  

Talking to older people like they are children can cut eight years off their lives, the study reports. The research also showed that many older adults become annoyed by professionals, like doctors, nurses, and health care aides, who address their children instead of them.

Experts suggest that older people should be called by their names. If a person has a title, like 'professor', 'doctor,' 'reverend,' etc., people should address them using their title. Plus, your tone of voice is also important. Experts suggest using a "normal" tone and "normal" language, not language like speaking to a five-year-old.

Seniors Don’t Want to be Treated Like Kids

Seniors often lament people talking to them loudly for no apparent reason. These older people are adults. They have lots of life experience. They should still be treated like adults and not like children. It is a level of respect they have earned. 

There is a fine line between caring and controlling. Language is a type of control whether we mean it to be or not. Since we will all get older, we should treat the elderly like we will want to be treated decades from now. 

Words matter. Tone matters. Aging happens. Many of us will become caregivers, often thrust into the role when a parent needs long-term health care. Unfortunately, too many people fail to have a plan for long-term care. The family goes into crisis mode. Family members become frustrated. They want to help, and they often do not think about how they are speaking with their parents. 

Professional caregivers and doctors, and other medical professionals also fall into this trap. Research now shows that elderspeak is not helpful; it is hurtful and should be avoided. 

How Will You Be Treated When You are Older?

One way to help ensure you will enjoy more dignity and independence as you get older is by planning now - before you get older - for the future costs and burdens of aging and changes in health and mobility.  

Affordable Long-Term Care Insurance will help you avoid dependency. It will give you access to your choice of quality care - including in-home care that most people prefer. It will help you avoid the family crisis, so your family has the time to be family. 

Do not forget the costs of long-term health care. Care is expensive and increases every year, according to the LTC NEWS Cost of Care Calculator. Planning protects income and assets as well.

With less anxiety, they hopefully will treat you as Mom and Dad and not a kid. We all deserve independence and dignity. Planning makes it easier for everyone.

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About the Author

Linda is a former journalist who now enjoys writing about topics she is interested in so she “can keep her mind active and engaged”.

LTC News Contributor Linda Maxwell

Linda Maxwell

Contributor since December 11th, 2017

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Many people realize the necessity of having a plan for long-term health care. Nonetheless, many have not yet done so. Some people think LTC Insurance is too expensive (it is not). Others assume it can be complicated (it can). Planning before you retire is crucial.

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