Elderspeak occurs when someone in a senior’s life, whether well-meaning or not, uses language that talks down to an older adult by focusing on their age and ailments instead of what they can do and who they are. While elderspeak is often used unintentionally by healthcare professionals, it can have huge negative effects on seniors, particularly those who suffer from Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia. Here are five ways caregivers can try to stay more aware of what they say and do so they can avoid elderspeak.
Don't Use Cute or Diminutive Terms
“Baby talk” is the most common type of elderspeak. It happens when a person speaks to a senior using the same kind of voice that one would use when playing with an infant. Using this kind of speech is both disrespectful and demeaning. It can also been seen as hostile. Seniors who are talked down to often can begin to close themselves off from loved ones. Seniors who have dementia may respond even more dramatically in fits of rage or tears.
Ask the Senior How They Want to Be Addressed
When working with seniors, a caregiver should be mindful to always ask seniors how they prefer to be addressed. Make this one of your first questions when meeting a new senior. Referring to someone in the manner than they prefer is a small way to show respect, and feeling respected is very important for everyone, not just seniors. Using words like “sweetie” or addressing a senior using the “royal we” puts the senior beneath you and lessens their importance as an individual.
Have a Conversation
Edlerspeak often occurs when a caregiver is assisting a senior with activities of daily living. When you are helping someone complete a task that is easy for you to do, it can feel normal to speak to them in a childlike manner, but that kind of talk should be avoided. Conversation is an important part of socialization for all people. So when you’re helping a senior, don’t just be there as a silent aid, engage them in conversation. Make eye contact; it shows you’re interested, listening, and actively attentive. Don’t just act interested in what they have to say, be interested. Be involved.
Don't Talk About Someone As If They Aren't There
When someone has difficulty hearing, speaking, or is entirely nonverbal, they are sometimes left out of the conversation in the room around them. As a caregiver who cares for multiple residents, it can be easy to slip up and start to talk about someone as if they are not in the room with you. When you start acting as if people aren’t there and discussing their problems with their family members instead of with them, it sends a message to the senior that they are incompetent. To a senior who is currently losing or has lost some of their cognitive abilities, being treated this way can be very upsetting. Even if you know the senior cannot understand everything that you are saying, when you are discussing their health with a family member, address the senior directly.